Let's Talk DAC's

My current DAC, the Chord Chordette Qute HD is getting on with age and I am looking for a new one with superior performance. So far, I have narrowed down my search to five DACs. At the low end is the Denafrips Ares II and the Eversolo DAC Z8. Mid range the RME ADI-2 and at the top end the Chord Qutest and the Denafrips Pontus II.

This is for an all-digital setup in a 12x12 dedicated room. I have a much larger room with a much "bigger" set up, but for this room it is a simple PrimaLuna Prologue Classic integrated, Audiolab 6000 CD transport, ProAc Tablette 10’s, and a REL T/5i Subwoofer. I plan to add a streamer as well, but that is for another discussion.

I am conflicted with the choice between a delta-sigma modulated DAC and an R2R type Dac. I do like the FPGA technology in my current DAC. It has served me well.

I am certainly open to other ideas and welcome comments from those of you that have experience with this equipment.

I forgot to add; I like a wide and deep soundstage and good imaging. I also hate a rolled off high end.






I think you may find several of those mentioned a lateral move.    I had the RME , it's good no doubt but it is probably near the end of production .  I do know that they have no memory left for enhancements and the last Firmware revision is probably the last ...  


I’d add the Musician Pegasus to your list as it does all the things you’re looking for very well. It comes from the same factory as the Pontus II and shares many of the same parts/technology, but the Pegasus seems to be a little more detailed up top than the Pontus (and probably a lot of other R2R DACs for that matter) that I thought might appeal to you given what you’re looking for. And at $1045 it’s considerably cheaper as well. Here’s a good review, and I own the Pegasus and think his assessment is spot on.


I should also note you can get a significant performance boost by adding a DDC and utilizing the Pegasus’ i2S input.  I bought a used Iris and was surprised and impressed with how much the sound improved (and this using a $6 HDMI cable from Monoprice).  If it’s in the budget the benefits are such that I’d recommend getting the DDC right away, but if it’s not it’s definitely something to look forward to down the road.  Musician offers the similar Pisces that is likewise cheaper than the Iris.  Hope this helps, and best of luck.

Too bad the Chord Hugo TT is out of my price range-looks real nice.

@oddiofyl- Which one is an improvement in your opinion? 

 @Soix-That Pegasus is definitely a contender. What is a DDC? Pardon my ignorance

Not at all. A digital-to-digital converter, which initially sounds superfluous, but what it does is both re-clock the data and give you the option of using different inputs on your DAC. So if you feed the DDC a USB input from your streamer you now have the option of using superior AES/EBU or i2S outputs to your DAC. The benefit of this can vary depending on how the DAC’s inputs are designed, but in the case of my Pegasus the improvement of the DDC and going to i2S was substantial, and I’ve heard similar results from others who have the Pontus II. @vthokie83 can maybe attest to and expand on that. Incidentally the reviewer of the Pegasus also reviewed their Draco DAC and found very little difference sonically between it and the Pegasus and only costs $750 (but a current $38 coupon on Amazon knocks it down to only $712), so that and a DDC could be a relative bargain.




Something worth thinking about is you could have a Draco and either a Pisces or Iris DDC for not much more than a Pegasus alone. Definitely an attractive option.

I'm hesitant to recommend any DAC.   It is something I would recommend auditioning at home.   I just sold my RME for $675,  a great DAC for the price .   Unlike other DACs it has a built in parametric EQ so it can sound how ever you like.    

Definitely listen to your current DAC and the one you are interested in side by side 

I tried both of the Denafrips mentioned but bought a Pure Audio Lotus DAC 5 as it was clearly superior. Even the Denafrips distributor indicated I would have to go to the Terminator to get the equivalent SQ

The Pure Audio Lotus DAC 5 is within my budget. I will look into it. How good is the imaging? I am an imaging junkie and in a small room with the diminutive ProAc's imaging is a priority for me. 

@oddiofyl- Good advice. I definitely want to buy from a retailer that allows returns.


If you are only interested in DACs that you can buy from a local source and test drive, then you can ignore both Musician and Denafrips. They are sold direct without a dealer network (and thus the associated 50% markup)....IMO that would be eliminating some amazing DACs.

Soix mentioned the Musician Pegasus, which is a fine DAC, I've heard it in my system and did like it. I personally prefer the Denafrips Pontus II 12th DAC at $1,850, and then from there the Musician Aquarius DAC at $2,900.

I've compared the Chord Qutest in my system, and found it lacking in all but detail....which it has in spades. I did not find it musical, fun, and could not listen to it for more than a couple of hours without fatigue (others will definitely disagree). BUT boy if you love detail and clarity, it's there.

Soix also mentioned adding a DDC (Digital to Digital Converter), which does several things: Allows I2S from the DDC to the DAC (if it has I2S connections) and that prevents the conversion of the internal I2S signal to another format and then back to I2S, cleans the signal both galvanically and optically, and then re-clocks it with a superior clock before sending to the DAC. I can tell you that the sound improvement is nothing less than terrific with the addition of a DDC.

That being said, adding a DDC depends greatly on what you streamer you plan to buy. If you're going to add low to mid priced $1,000/$1,500 units (think Eversolo, BlueSound, Topping, etc), then the DDC will be a great help. If you're looking more at the Aurender/Lumin/Innuous and their associated much higher cost, then you may find no need for a DDC.

There are hundreds if great reviews of the Pontus II DAC, and many thousands of satisfied customers. Do some reading to see if you like what they say. Best of luck on your search

I forgot to mention my current set up for you: BlueSound Node 130 with LHY LPS, Denafrips Iris DDC, Denafrips Pontus II DAC, several amps I can use, and Buchardt Audio S400 MKII speakers. The BlueSound is not long for this world, I'll be upgrading to an Aurender/Lumin/Innuous streamer by the end of the year

Check out the HoloAudio Spring 3 DAC, though it might be just outside the price range you're exploring for this particular system.  I believe their base price is just over $2K, but worth giving a listen.

If you are only interested in DACs that you can buy from a local source and test drive, then you can ignore both Musician and Denafrips.

Can’t speak for Denafrips, but you can buy Musician products through Amazon and I believe you have a return window where you can easily return if it doesn’t work out for you.  That’s why I bought my Pegasus there although I never considered returning it after hearing it.  Worth doublechecking though just in case. 

Chord Qutest is a solid DAC and should fit the bill. Precise imaging, open sound and very good soundstage.

Another option would be something with a built in network renderer. It will eliminate the need for a separate streamer. Depending on what you plan to spend on a streamer, check out the Bricasti M3 or a PS Audio DSD DAC, used.


Gustard R26.  This is probably the highest-rated R2R DAC under $2k I've seen, both among reviewers and satisfied customers.  Amazon has a good return policy, though I don't encourage abusing it. Keep in mind that the DAC might require a longer break-in period, around 200 hours (as reported), so consider leaving it running continuously for several days to facilitate the break-in process without exceeding your return window.


Honestly in your budget don’t buy anything and waste your money on something that is barely better if not worse than your current DAC. Unless you can save about 6-7k on a Lampizator Baltic 4 or Chord Hugo TT then later get an MScaler you won’t hear the difference. Your DAC is fine.

I think one that’s not as realized but has come up here before is the Okto Research dac8 stereo. Under $1500 and outstanding reviews (Audiogon included). It has a unique/rethought approach to Sabre chip channel use - don’t really know enough about those details just yet. But also has some other impressive features on the output configuration side of things:



There are several other considerations.  Are you looking for something that emphasizes CD level reproduction or does it have to do high-rez as well?  The best sounding DACs for CD resolution playback are often CD only DACs,

Most DAC manufacturers focus on the digital side--DAC chipsets, clocking/re-clocking, exotic filter reconstruction of the signal, etc.  But, there are other manufactures that employ "primitive" and simple digital to digital to analogue conversion and emphasize improvement in the analogue circuit.  The two types of DACs can sound quite different, and it is worth your while to listen to both.  While they measure quite poorly, Audio Note DACs, to me, sound fantastically natural, relaxed and beautiful.  They represent quite the extreme in the emphasis in the analogue side. Some of their cheaper models (still not cheap) have essentially the same digital circuit as their crazy expensive top end DACs--the price difference reflecting the quite exotic exclusive parts they employ in the analogue side. Synthesis Audio and Lector, both Italian companies are other examples of analogue side DAC makers that make really nice sound stuff.  

Because it is talked about so much, it is easy to get caught up in R2R, filter choices, etc., but, it is worth at least trying a different path.  The result might surprise you.  

You say you want better. Better what?  Consider your use and source. Then consider if you really need to change, or like so many of us, just got that bug which of course is a perfectly good reason for a change.   Modern electronics have fantastically flat responses. Rolled off top end is going to be your speakers, room, and ears. Not the electronics.   Linear distortion is easy as can be corrected by eq. 

Biggest improvement I did in my DACs was to reduce the output of JRiver by 3 dB.  It made my DACs sound much more alike by suppressing edginess or "digititus" quite a bit.  Chord and RME both mention this as an issue with digital filters which may be why they don't seem to have the same issue as most chip DS DACs. Maybe the preference for NOS R2R DACs by some.  Seems reasonable as it describes a real measurable issue that does not require any magic. . Enough so I am finished on my desktop system. Not sure on my main stereo. 

You don't have the Gustard's on your list. R26, A26. ( A26 has a streamer/renderer i it)   Some like the Mojo better than the Qutest my local Chord dealer tells me.   Like everything, you get to diminishing returns real fast.  The sonic difference between an Atom+ and a D90 is not that great. ( two price ends of generic chip DACs)  Either it takes a lot more money for a true step up, or steps are very small.  Amazon is probably hating me for returns but that is the marketing path of so much these days. ( 2 toppings, 1 SMSL, 1 Sabaj)

The RME is old, but I get the impression it was just done very well so unless looking for some specific parameter that stands out, it is still a viable option.  I want to try one. Maybe it is like the good old Vanderstein 2Ce. Does nothing wrong. Nothing great, but nothing wrong.  There's a lot to be said for that.

My short list is down to Qutest, Mojo, Rme,  A26, and Enyo ( name changed for the Aris when they raised the price)  I can't justify the next step up even if breaching $3K is where the differences may start to show.  Holo, Terminator, Hugo TT Weiss, etc.    I really want to try an A26 in my system, but $1500 had better be a huge difference for 15 times the price over my JDS, not just a subtle detail. I can buy a lot more CD's for that much money and for me, music matters most. 

If someone would PLEASE make a midrange to cover 500 to 5K with efficiency to work with 6 to 8 inch woofers, I would gladly use that $1500 there! I have been searching for a good midrange for 40 years. Speakers are and will always be the weakest link. I do not have the space for planer or ES speakers or I would have them. Get the stinking crossover out of the vocal range!



you might want to take a look at the Wyred4Sound 10th anniversary dac,the reviews on it have been stellar, 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 because they give a 30-day trial period and I totally agree It's one of the most analog DACs that I've ever heard and I kept it It's not cheap it's $4,500 US but well worth it.

I just sold the RME DAC.  It is not a plug and play unit .  I never could figure out what buttons to push to do the numerous things it can do.  I replaced it with a Geshilli J2s ($600ish), far superior to the RME.  Do not be skeptical of this unit due to the low price……it is magnificent!!!!

Why bother if you’re looking all lower performance DACs, Giant killers are a fallacy, yes there are okay low end DACs out there but really they are no better than your iPad. As @pennfootball71 said save some money and look further up the line, Limpazator, LessLoss, Simaudio, Aqua, Briscatti……your ears will thank you.


I’m not sure you are going to do any better than the Aries in your price range.  A different sound yes, but all around, no. Until you get to the Pontus ll.  I bought a Pontus ll a couple of years ago and haven’t found another DAC that sounds as good to me until I almost doubled the price. 
I’ve thought about buying a Venus ll, but my wife thinks otherwise 😆

All the best.


My local dealer loves to do whacky, but very instructive, demonstrations with the ProAc Tablette speaker.  Recently, he put a $30,000 tube amp on the speaker to demonstrate that amps matter a whole lot, even when the speakers are supposedly "modest" in price and expected performance, and to demonstrate how fantastic the Tablettes can sound when they are given a fair chance --i.e,, used with other high quality components.  A few years ago, at a Washington DC area Capital Audiofest show, the dealer took a laptop with stored music, a small and modestly price (but really good sounding) tube amp and the Tablettes.  The secret sauce in the setup was a DAC that now costs above 6 figures (Audio Note DAC 5 Signature).  People who heard the room were simply amazed at how good the system sounded--full, rich, alive and musical  Almost everyone went around the room looking for a subwoofer (there was none).  The speaker was fully capable of showing off an ultra expensive DAC. 

The Tablettes will be very capable of showing off whatever changes you make in your DAC choice.  Again, as I said above, you should include in your auditioning a few DACs that emphasize the analogue stage--primarily they are tube-based DACs that don't merely add a tube buffer to give them a tube sound.

Some great responses here. Many thanks! I am assuming that I need a DDC if I am streaming via USB from a CPU. Is this assumption accurate?



No, you can run a USB cable from the computer to a DAC with a USB input, but you’re much better off getting a dedicated streamer because a computer is a very noisy and low-quality source for music. Even a cheap streamer like a Bluesound Node or iFi Zen Stream will be a huge improvement over a computer.

DDC?  For what.?   Digital to Digital converter?   These were introduced as a band-aid when DACs had horribly  implemented USB inputs to overcome bad cables, noisy PC ports, ground loops, and using the PC clock in synchronous mode.  Those issues were identified and solved long ago. You can buy entry level DACs immune to these issues. As in sub $100!  No excuse for an audiophile level product to be susceptible to these problems just as it is no excuse for a streamer to be susceptible to any phantom network problems any more. 

Now, if your DAC does not have a USB input and that is all your PC has,  then you need a "media converter" to convert USB to PCM or TOSLINK.  Or a DAC that does, PC that does etc. 

Chuck, I have heard good things about the Geselli DACs and they have been most responsive with a couple of questions.  I do love small companies who believe in service and support.  One reviewer suggested their use of a third party USB card may not be the best but that is the only criticism I have seen and only from one source and I don;t believe most reviewers anyway.  They just introduced the newest version with the top AKM chip.  Roll your OP amps if you wish.  Very tempted. 

Yea the RME has a book for instructions as they give you about all possible options. As they are a pro audio company, they do their one consumer produce like their pro stuff and expect the effort to be put in. Not for everybody. Better than Chi-Fi that have lots of options ( most useless) but no instructions. Incorrect settings can defiantly degrade the sound.  RME and Chord do discuss the digital filter clipping problem but if using a PC, it can be corrected on the host reliving the DAC of that problem. So what was an advantage 6 years ago, may not be today. 

The other side of the coin are folks like Schiit, JDS, Geselli, etc. who select " the correct filter"  by their experience and can do standard formats without drivers or settings. Plug and play for WASAPI, but drivers are needed for ASIO or ultra high data rates MS does not support. No idea about Apple or Linux.  I had issues with older Topping and SMSL ASIO drivers as well. They seem to have worked it out now. Schiit still does not seem to like ASIO.  Then a few, usually higher end, give you only a couple of options, but ones that actually matter. OS or NOS for instance. 

Giant killers may be a fallacy. You don't get something if you don't pay for it. BUT, Just because you pay for it does not mean you get anything more. Billet aluminum, glass displays, fancy feet, and advertising does not effect the sound. Good engineering does. Dealer markup and very low production also raises the price with no sonic benefits. Overseas shipping can add to the cost if single units. Technology does play a part as R2R with any accuracy is very expensive.  Paralleling multiple top line D/S chips does cost. So does licensing for useless features like MQA. Now, how many price steps does one need to go and actually get solid performance improvements?  How far above the best budget ( JDS in my view stomps the Chi-Fi bottom tier)  does it take to get a noticeable sonic improvement?   Different for sure can get you into low end R2R under a grand. Better is or not a personal choice.  Features, like if you want XLR's costs a couple bucks.  Preamp section or headphone section?   Adds up.   A $200 mass produced Chi-Fi with top 10 level classic measurements does not sound any better to me than my Atom+, Nor did a $400.  So that pretty much confirms once measurements are better than the .001% range they are not the driving force in the sound. So a baseline of pretty good.

Now what does it take to be a real sonic step up?

Pontus, HOLO, Weiss, Chord  seem to be a reasonable expectation to be an actual step up if one can believe any reviewer.  I don't  but  are a place to start listening for yourself.  Others of course.  Above their price, from my manufacturing background, there is not really much you can spend money on, so price may be more prestige driven.  Maybe the J2s is the intermediate step but then I have to add the price of a preamp to it.  $300, $700, $1500?   Maybe add in a higher current cleaner power supply?  I hate headphones so that cost is defrayed but it does make it a $1000 minimum DAC in my system. 5X my all in one Chi-Fi which is not bad. Only slightly below, and that may be my imagination of my $200 Atom stack.  Imagination. Out brains lie like a dog. I at least know I have a slight bias against the Chi-Fi stuff. 


DDC? For what.? Digital to Digital converter? These were introduced as a band-aid when DACs had horribly implemented USB inputs to overcome bad cables, noisy PC ports, ground loops, and using the PC clock in synchronous mode. Those issues were identified and solved long ago. You can buy entry level DACs immune to these issues. As in sub $100!

This is simply not true. Several of us here have added DDCs to our highly-regarded >$1000 DACs and have experienced significant (i.e. not small)  improvements.

Wait @tvrgeek I thought cables did not matter in the audio chain?

I have not used a PC for streaming in a long, long time. With cleaner more efficient streamer/server options geared towards audio. Some of these devices (ddc) do help improve the audio chain with some DACs. 

USB inputs to overcome bad cables, noisy PC ports, ground loops, and

A review of the most DACs in one post from a long time audiophile is "dacs that Ive had in my system" by jjss49.

Sorry, dont know how to post link.

If you have a DAC that is improved by a DDC, and that could be, then you have a poorly implemented DAC and are band-aiding it. Bad design or just obsolete.    Again, you can now buy a DAC that can deal with it just fine. An excellent example is the Schiit Unison, but most competent companies have also implemented very good USB inputs.  Galvanic isolation, good management of analog vs digital grounds, good board layout, not powered by the host, etc.  Internal clocks and PLL's are vastly better and larger buffers removing any external jitter or noise that plagued us 10 years ago.  You should not be using the host clock, you should be using a "good" $5 cable and be running in asynchronous mode.  Problems eliminated. 

I suggest spending the extra $500 and up on a better DAC rather than band-aid a problem that should no longer be there.  Too bad sites like ASR do not test input issues as that would actually be useful.  

To better understand USB, I offer this link:  https://www.elprocus.com/usb-protocol/

🙄 not sure who or what you are adressing @tvrgeek . My DAC is not afflicted with these issues and needs no bandaids it is well designed and implimented, well north of most peoples budget but not as much as some here (20K). No I do not use a DDC but I am not going to say that they do not work for some folks. Nor will I say their system is schiit like you are implying. I know that $$ spent is not always indicitive of how a DAC will sound, I know my DAC sounds better than anything in the mid level price range.

  • LessLoss unique 3.3V generation for internal I2S (The USB 5V supply is discarded; and the 3.3V is made with our own power stabilizer and Firewall 640X technology. It is super smooth and stable. Makes you forget you are listening to a computer USB source!)

Chuckhoness.. I hope you didnt pay $600.00 for the J2.

Its $250.00 USD on Geshelli home site. Yes, it can be upgraded a bit, but $600.00 looks very high.

I got the the J2 to bypass my Bluesound Node 2i internal dac. Its better, but Im not so sure its near the same league as OP is looking for.

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bikefi10  by the time you get the op amps, usb connect, and a wood box, your at $600 

J2 base DAC is $250.  If you want the new AKM chipset, ( a lot more expensive)  it bumps to the J2s. Adds XLRs and a USB, then you have the option to go with the Sparkos op amps. Some think highly of them. If you want a wood case, more money.  You can actually spend close to $900 for one.   The older J2 AKM chipset was suggested to be close to Bifrost level sonically. Mrs. Geselli advised me to wait for this new version when I described the sonic flaw I was chasing.   Not a giant killer, but apparently a fair price and you don't have to pay for features you may not want.  Some do want BT. Add some value as they actually provide support.  How does it compare with the better mid-range DACs, that is what is important.  E70 Velvet?  D0300? X18? Draco? Bifrost? 

If my JDS was  packaged like an SMSL DM2, power supply certified instead of a generic AC wall wort, toss in a bunch of software you don't need, pay the MQA license, BT, remote, balanced drivers,  make it in the hundreds instead of tens of thousands,  it would probably be ten times the price and sound the same.  I wonder what the reviewers or price-snobs would think of it then? 

That leaves us with what is actually a performance step up?  If you put out a couple grand, you expect the nice packaging, so price/sonic value goes down. More inputs you don't use? Remote control of parameters you never change?  You reach the level of diminishing returns. Tiny improvements costing big bucks. 

So what does one really get for $3000? Or $20,000?    Better at what? I would like to think something but the ones I have hear demoed have not shown me anything positive. Wrong ones? Wrong speakers?  How much of that is distributor and dealer profit?   A lot of the attributes the subjective puppets ascribe are not actually functions of the DAC.   That does not even touch on what biases and expectations your brain makes up to justify spending that kind of money. It does if you believe it or not.  If that lie makes it sound better to you, then you have achieved your goal and the price was worth it. 

What a change that Jeffery O'l boy agreed with me that good DACs don't need the DDC band-aid. For $20K, I hope it is a good one as a Modi+ for $139 doesn't need one either.   I sure hope his doesn't use the computer USB 5V in a 20K client.    My $99 one is smarter than that.  

@tvrgeek I see reading is not your strong suit slick.

You really think that Schitt will hold it’s own against LessLoss, Lampi, SPL, LinQ, Mietner, Mearson, Holo, then you are bat schiit crazy.

May work great in your Schiit System (and you may think so too) but ends there slick. Did buy my daughter the Modi with her paper route money when she was in middleschool.

  • LessLoss unique 3.3V generation for internal I2S (The USB 5V supply is discarded; and the 3.3V is made with our own power stabilizer and Firewall 640X technology. It is super smooth and stable. Makes you forget you are listening to a computer USB source!)

This went south quickly.


Someone suggested that any of the DACs I mentioned are more or less a lateral move and he is probably right. Just gonna punt.

Post removed 

Maybe not to throw the baby out with the bath water here, if you buy through Amazon I believe you could still try a Musician Pegasus or Draco R2R DAC and can just return it within 30 days or so I think.  Not a fan of returning stuff here, but if you’re seriously considering and are genuinely interested in the product, well, that’s why there’s a return policy.  Just a thought. 

I have a feeling, the tvrgreek character is old wine in a new bottle. cindy met anyone? @thyname can probably see right through him. 

Does anyone here have experience with the Merason Frerot ?

I know there are a handful of great reviews, but I haven't read too much (or any) first hand experience from users on this forum. 

I have read a bit from ppl who are happy with their higher level offering...the Dac1

@jeffrey125 LessLoss was high on my priority list when I was shopping for another DAC. Ended up going with Meitner MA3 since I found the built-in streamer to be as good as my previous Innuos Zenith. The DAC is phenomenal. But I still wish I had a chance to listen to LessLoss. Heard great things about it. Did you by any chance compare it to the ever popular Holo Audio May?

@arafiq : no.

This guy appears to own / have owned some equipment. Cheap / chfi does not matter. Cin Dyment owns zero audio equipment 

One thing about the RME, it uses it’s internal clock regardless of whether it is USB or using a SPDIF type input   That is an advantage with TV or other video sources   
It always uses it’s internal Femto clock for all inputs, the source clock is not used with this DAC

It is a very good sounding DAC    Others have called it kind of dry or clinical. I did not find that to be the case but it was in an all tube system.   

I spent almost 3 X as much to better it so it’s an excellent value no doubt.  


@arafiq no I did not, I had the Echos End then upgraded to the Echo’s End Reference, prior to the LessLoss I did audition the MA3, Lampi Golden Gate. I also owned the Mearson DAC1. All ore excellent DACs the LL EE worked best in my system. 

I went to Audition the Merason Freot  and left that day with the Lab 12 DAC 1.   

The little Merason sou dedicated good for the money, but i was replacing the RME and I was looking for something with more weight, meat on the bones.. ..it also has a beautiful tone unlike any DAC  I've ever owned.   Natural sounding 

Merson DAC-1 being over 5K is pushing the OP's budget as stated if the Hugo @ just under 7 is too much.  Holo May and Less Loss are also in the $5K range.  Merson Fererot is a different technology using the Burr Brown and with a friendlier price around $1700. Ladder Schumann is also around that price. R2R and of course the Qutest.  Only listening will tell you if they are an upgrade. 

Yes , auditioning is important with anything, but sometimes you are splitting hairs with similarly priced DACs so it can easily turn into a lateral move if not careful