Recommend me a DAC under 3k

Hi All,

Long time reader, first time poster!

I’m expanding my all-analog system to add a proper digital front end and would like recommendations for a DAC to connect to my Wiim pro plus.

Listening Habits:

I primarily listen to LPs, but appreciate the convenience and discoverability that digital provides. I don’t have a digital music library and only stream via Tidal and Spotify. My 2-channel system does double duty as a sound system for our TV as well.


  • All-in <= $3k
  • Prioritizes sound quality above all else
  • Streaming supports Tidal Connect directly or via some other protocol
  • TosLink Input (for casual TV)

Personal Preferences:

  • When tuning components in my system, I’ve preferred ones that are more detailed/transparent rather than overly warm/harmonic. E.g. Telefunken over Amperex or Mullard. Duelund CAST over AN copper.
  • Realistic tone/timbre, soundstage, micro-detail, and impactful bass are important to me.

Currently under consideration:

  • Denafrips Pontus II 12th
  • Denafrips Venus II
  • Schiit Yggdrasil
  • ANK DAC 4.1x (with Duelund caps, etc)
  • Gustard R26

The rest of my system is as follows:

  • CSS 2TD-x tower speakers (neutral with some mid-bass warmth)
  • ANK EL34 35W Monoblocks
  • ANK L5 Mentor Preamp
  • ANK L3 Phono V2
  • Mofi Ultradeck with Master Tracker cartridge
  • Richard Gray 600RM Pro Power Conditioner

i trust you have read my thread with dacs i have had... it may help you decide

New or used?

Lots of great options out there. Many really fantastic non-America DACs.


Whatever the DAC, try Qobuz - to my ears, it usually sounds better. Since your analog taste (e g Telefunken tubes) resembles mine, you might like the Teac NT-505. I do. But then again I don't expect digital to sound better than (good) analog.

Buying used is a great way to to up your sound quality.  A DAC has no moving parts so the risk is much lower.

For your $3000 dolloars it would be hard to beat a used PSAudio DirectStream Dac $6000 new with the transformer upgrades.

Currentlly AudioGon has the DAC listed for $2000 with the upgrade under $1000

@jjss49 I just read through it. What a thorough comparison! Since you included the ANK 4.1 in your top 3, including direct output, I’m curious to hear how it stacked up to the Denafrips units. How did it handle micro detail and bass performance? I’m very familiar with Brian and the build process so have some preference toward his units. Do you think 18bits is a limitation over the other hi-res units?

The audio note will easily get you closer to analog then the others 


Get the usb input and use a pc tillyou can get a real server 


Our 432evo servers sound magnificent withaudio note dacs






  • the new Schiit Yggdrasil+ Less Is More (is a great DAC). I have not heard the other 2 new Yggi+’s that measure better. The USB input is also good on this DAC. It beat a $15K DAC/Streamer for my ears.

Given what you’re looking for, I’ll recommend the Musician Pegasus DAC along with one of their DDCs that enable you to use the i2S input on the DAC that was a big step up over using its SPDIF input.  Here’s a review of both the DAC and then using it with their top DDC that give you an idea of the sound qualities of both the DAC and what a DDC brings to the table, and I concur with all his impressions…

Hope this gives you another option to chew on, and best of luck in your search. 

I primarily listen to LPs, but appreciate the convenience and discoverability that digital provides. I don’t have a digital music library and only stream via Tidal and Spotify. My 2-channel system does double duty as a sound system for our TV as well.

I recommend you get a Marantz 8805 for around $2K and an apple TV 4k. You will have a DAC in the unit plus get an instant upgrade for your TV and your sound system will now be capable of both hirez. dsd, and spatial audio/atmos.

Note the phono, digital, and analog inputs included on the rear of the 8805:

Marantz AV 8805 Ref Surrond Pre For Sale | Audiogon

Just to say, not every DAC has a streaming (Ethernet) input. Be sure you are comparing apples to apples.

I have the Lab 12 DAC 1 Reference.   Smooth and zero listening fatigue with a good source upstream.    I use it primarily with my Aurender N200 and it is a nice sounding DAC.    

Don't buy a DAC in that price range without listening to it first.  Either dealer demo or preferably in your system.    It is so easy to waste money in this hobby.  Especially digital gear because there are a lot of good DACs out there and you are splitting hairs beyond a certain point.  

My first dac was an MHTD labs balanced pagoda it was around $2100. Based on some reviews here on this forum is why I bought it. It's still going strong. I think I'd have to spend quite a bit more to upgrade. 

You may be confused, you say you like clarity over warmth, yet you list the Gustard r26 as a possibility. The Gustard X26 PRO would be a lot more to your taste imo.

I have the Pontus ll and love it, but if I had the money, the Venus is supposed to be super.

All the best.


  • "When tuning components in my system, I’ve preferred ones that are more detailed/transparent rather than overly warm/harmonic. E.g. Telefunken over Amperex or Mullard. Duelund CAST over AN copper.
  • Realistic tone/timbre, soundstage, micro-detail, and impactful bass are important to me."

I think your tastes here are along the same as mine. I’ve been using a Burl Audio B2 Bomber DAC for more than 2 years now and have no reason to ever look for another, if this should ever fail for any reason I’ll just replace it with another. The Burl is about $2.5k and made in LA. My front end is only this DAC, fed from a PS Audio PW transport. Short on features possibly, but long on the kind of sq you’re describing.

The Burl is not widely known in hifi circles, but that’s bc it’s not aimed at us. Unlike most other pro names (like Berkeley and others), the Burl company does not attempt to market to us, they only exist to serve the pro realm. This is purpose-built in that it is meant only for the monitoring phase of studio recording applications. This means there’s no advantage for them to design a DAC for their own use that either ’gussies’ the sound up in any way, or sweeps anything less than ideal under the rug - what they needed for the job is something that would reliably show them the true state of affairs about what is in their mix, no more no less.

This DAC does have color, but I found it’s quite well balanced and notably realistic all the way through the range without sounding ’homogenized’ or overtly warmish. The timbre is also very realistic and I found that since this DAC is so subjectively accurate-sounding on its own that it responds beautifully to a good power treatment solution - its attributes only get better and that process doesn’t act to otherwise reveal baked-in design excesses or limitations with the sq. That was actually hard for me to come by, don’t let anyone tell you that there are no real differences between DACs, I’ve found them to be pretty much ginormous.

The tech is interesting: class-A op amps instead of a complicated analog output stage, no caps in the signal path and all, but to me the most important thing is that the entire DAC was built by ear - From Start to Finish - invariably, every time I see this claim about ANY audio gear it turns out after closer inspection that they only mean a particular part of the design - not the whole unit - oh well, that’s marketing for you. Having lived with the B2 for a long while now, I can safely say this applies to the whole unit, but it makes sense to me, there’s just no other way Burl could get the right kind of tool they needed for the job - they couldn’t buy it anywhere, so they had to make it themselves. But, Burl is well respected in the pro world, chances are better than 50/50 that any recording made in the last 30 yrs or so was made on their equipment. That’s my ’commercial’ for them I guess, but I’ve come to be a believer now, and I don’t mind being a fanboy if the product is right enough for it.

But, if you’re looking for a DAC that really punches up the center image to emphasize that lead vocal, this is not that kind of DAC. Instead nothing is emphasized or de-emphasized, the soundstage is neutrally laid out before you and cross-channel pans track exactly like they should (if you’re speakers are set up for it). But, one of the highlights of this DAC is the bass - very extended, muscular, dynamic and agile. In short, it’s built to Move! Very lifelike and responsive. My speaker system is true full-range with very healthy output at 10 Hz (4, 18" IB woofers) and this is the first DAC I’ve used that truly does equal justice to Every genre.

This is a PCM DAC, but it may well be the best-sounding PCM DAC there is. It came out in 2010, but don’t let its age fool you, its sq is top notch.

You can buy a version of this DAC that has a toslink in, however I've never used Tidal, so I'm less sure about the connectivity there.

If you're into Vinyl and like that "sound"...then go with a good R2R DAC...they sound the Most analog...Denefrips or Audio Mirror Toubadour IV SE ( made in US.)..

Currently have a Weiss DAC204 in my system on a trial.  It is a basic DAC without a lot of extra features, but the sound and detail is exceptional at its price point.  Full retail is above your desired price level, but I recommend you try to find a way to hear it and see what a dealer may do for you.  

In our audio club I have heard many very good dacs and some very $$.

this musician Aquarius dac for $3k before knowing the price it’s a very well balanced R2R dac  I thought it was in the $5k range , I was very surprised it was in the $3k range , the owner said it took over 300 hours to fully runin. 
but being digital youcan leave on 24-7 to burn in he left it on for 10 day he said .

checkit out plenty of very good reviews ,holosprings and Denafrips all have dacs in this range but nine had the detail and refinement this did this review was pretty accurate.

I have a Black Ice Tube DAC running 2 Amperex Bugle Boy 12ax7’s. For my taste, it’s the best I’ve heard, even anywhere near $3k. 

+1 for the Yggdrasil OG. That with an upgraded power cord and you'll be in heaven. 

It looks like your Wiim Pro Plus, has coax and optical digital no need for a DDC right now. You may want to consider the DAC input options, if you plan to upgrade the Wiim in the that does have USB outputs.

+1 for R2R ladder DACs, but I'd also throw in the Weiss DACs. The 205 ($2,600) which does not have USB input, or the more expensive 204 ($3,500) which does add USB input. I can also highly recommend the Musician Aquarius ($3,100) and the Denafrips Pontus II 12th ($1,850) , both of which I have extensively tested in my system. I own the Denafrips Pontus, but the Aquarius takes things to another level....albeit for an additional $1,300.

Personally I preferred the Denafrips Pontus and the Musician Aquarius over the Denafrips Venus, but if you are looking for a more detailed presentation....the Venus just might be right for you.

Even Jason suggests the Bifrost 2/64 is a match for the Iggy. 

Do not overlook less expensive units. Of everything I have had in my system, my cheap JDS Atom+ has been the best overall.  ( $99)  I too am looking at the Enyo (Aries with new price) Mojo II, Qutest, or maybe a newer top line Delta Sigma like the SMSL DO300, Topping, Gustard X18 etc. 

My focus is 90% on female vocal smoothness. Don't care about bass "
weight" or some magical details in imaging and air that were not on the recording to start with. I focus on what I do hear reliably. There are a lot of expansive DACs, but are they really better than what you get for $1600?  "$700? or even $99?  Do we want "clean" or the masking from an R2R? Masking from a tube?  ( Or do we want that masking to be in a preamp?   Lots of choices. 

Upgrade the power cord. Yea, a 49 cent ferrite on the cord and it is as good as physics allows it, if and only if you have an RF pickup problem in the first case which almost no one has anyway.  I suggest spending the money on the DAC, not on magic.

Take a look at the RME ADI-2 DAC FS. It excels at clarity & detail, yet isn’t overly bright or clinical. I have mine installed in my secondary system & I’m extremely happy with it. It has toslink input & is well priced at $1300. Best bag for the buck in DACS out there IMHO & I’ve never seen a negative review. There are many online stores that will let you return it without return shipping charges. It does a great job of doubling as a preamp, too if you don’t need a lot of inputs.

My main system has a PS Audio Directstream, which is stunning with a good preamp. They pop up used often for $2500, or so.

This topic is why I rarely visit here. The PS Audio is truly one of the worst DACs I’ve ever heard, and I just have to laugh whenever I see an r2r dac recommended - a technology dependent on multiple resistors being identical (not in this universe). That said, I have not heard many of those suggested here. I can say that the Weiss and Schiit were underwhelming, at best.

For natural sound, the Ayre Codex is still my favorite in this range.

Nothing comes remotely close to the current DCS, which I can’t afford. So I listen to lots of vinyl.

+1 enthusiastically on the Schiit Yggy. It compares well to anything I have heard, is painless to own and get serviced, and is far superior to any vinyl setup near its price range (far better than my Ariston RD11S/Grace 707/Benz Ace).

 I find it very natural with a tremendous sense of drive.



I might add to mtdining that to diss the precision of resistors in RTR DAC designs, you must acknowledge the ridiculous non-linearity and precision in RIAA-based vinyl playback systems. They are truly Rube Goldbergian!

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I have a modified ANK L5 Mentor that I built driving an active pair of ATC SCM50ASLT speakers. I use and very much like a modified ANK 4.1x DAC that I also built, so that would be my recommendation. I run fiber from a highly optimized network to a Sonore opticalRendu (high quality LPS) into a Mutec MC3+ Smart Clock USB into the 4.1x S/PDIF input. I borrowed a well broken in R26 and preferred the 4.1x in that system which should come as no surprise.

I have no experience with the other DACs mentioned.

Perhaps audition the new Weiss DAC204 when they become available as the DAC501 is my favorite, the only DAC I prefer to the 4.1x in that system.

Down the line you should audition a Puritan Audio PSM156 power conditioner which will be a nice improvement over the Richard Grey.

Weiss DAC204 Review

I swapped out a modified (Grannyring) MHDT Orchid for a Bifrost 2/64 after extensive listening because there were just instruments and melodies, etc., I could not hear behind the nice "rounded" tonality of the Orchid (under multiple tubes).

@hilde45 very interesting as I’ve been planning to pick up a MHDT dac soon. The Bifrost 2/64 kind of seems like a sleeper hit. People seem to really love it.

I’ve been wanting to move on from my Border Patrol dac as of late and just for fun, I put in my old California Audio Labs Sigma II dac built in 1993 in the system last week. Guess what? It sounds really good! Not the most detailed thing ever but I’m ok with that. It’s got a Genalex Gold Lion 12ax7 in the output stage. I’m limiting Qobuz to playing 16/44.1 only and it sounds awesome. Very textured, musical and amazing bass.

Currently hooked up to Alstine tubed pre and Alstine SET120 amp into Fritz Carbon 7’s.

I bought the Gustard R26.

I agree that it sounds analog. Very good layering and instrument separation. Bass is articulate as well.

I also use the Wiim Pro. I am using coax out from the Wiim to the Gustard.

I have an Audible Illusions Modulus 3A tube Preamp with a new LSA Warp 1 Amp. 

The Gustard R26 sound now rivals my vintage Pioneer PL-707 turntable in sound quality. It has the ability to be upgraded as well.




I have a variety if systems with DACs. My base system is a Denefrips Ares II. it is a really good basic dac. My mid system has a FIIO K9 Pro ESS. it is a dac and streamer. it has two ESS 9038PRO dac chips and costs less than $1k. Absolute bargain of the century. My high end system has a Cary Audio DMS-700. It is good, not great and definitely not worth the high $8k price tag. 

I also had a RME Adi-2 and a Schiit Bifrost, which I didn't like. Sold them.

I really think the FIIO sounds fantastic. Especially for the money.

+1 for the Denafrips Pontus II.  I don't have the 12th anniversary edition, but I did upgrade the firmware to the current version.  This is a fantastic DAC for the price and perhaps even higher price.  I tried to avoid Chi-Fi, but after trying and returning a few Sabre based DACs, the Pontus II just presses all the right buttons. is not a streamer.  You will have to add a network bridge to stream from hard disc storage or streaming services.

+2 for the Pontus 2 12th. BTW, if you installed the lastest firmware, you are at the 12th level. Great detail and smoothness especially with OS and smooth filter. Adding the Iris DDC added even more detail for a USB streamer. 

I second the recommendation for a Black Ice FX Tube DAC. I have this DAC and like it very much but it is not my primary DAC. It did very well in a blind shootout at the Arizona Audio/Video Club DAC Shootout and I have had good experience over the years with equipment designed by Jim Fosgate.

I have two other DACs - a Berkeley Audio Reference 2 MQA and an Audio Mirror Tubadour IV. I also have a Marantz KI Ruby SACD player. Before these DACs/Players I had a PSA PerfectWave MK II and a Marantz SA 8005 SACD player.

The main point I would like to make is that in my experience there just isn't a lot of difference between modern DACs in how they sound. If you do a careful A/B comparison with matched volumes you will probably find that you are hard pressed to tell one from the other. If you are after a certain "sound" a DAC probably isn't the place to find it. It's nothing like changing phono cartridges, for example. One might think that my Berkeley Audio Reference 2 would blow away the other DACs but I have to admit that the differences are very subtle. I found this unit for a very good price used and I have a collection of HDCDs which it will decode but it certainly doesn't sound 20 times better than my Black Ice. Having the Berkeley gives me the satisfaction of listening to a DAC that is considered as one of the best and I don't think I'll need to upgrade again. If I wasn't so OCD about my stereo the Black Ice would have served me very well for the rest of my days. I got the Tubadour because I wanted to try a NOS DAC to see what the hoopla is all about. It's still breaking in but it also sounds pretty darn similar to every other DAC I've had.

The reason I recommend the Black Ice is that it's well within your budget and at least you can try different tubes which gives you some ability to modify the sound. Otherwise I suggest that you select a DAC that has the features you want, a story you connect with, and gives you the best pride of ownership. Then sit back and enjoy the music.

You may try out Pecan pi+ which sounds comparable with Dave and Mscaler if not better.


It sounds very detailed and but not overetched.




I love the Carbon 7s. What an amazing speaker.

I’ve been wanting to move on from my Border Patrol dac as of late

Why is that? Curious about your reasons.


yes I know you’ve been a fan of the Carbon 7’s

They have been an amazing purchase (along with the AVA gear)

re: Border Patrol….maybe “move on” is too strong.  I don’t think I’ll actually sell it.  I do like it, but I like experiencing new gear and the truth is that the Border Patrol dac can be a bit soft some times… despite all the things it does well, including pumping out a very natural and engaging impression … I sometimes find it a bit rolled off and diffuse.  Kind of depends on other factors like what I’m playing and which other equipment is hooked up.  I don’t want a hyper detailed dac… but something with a little bit more resolution and perhaps a lower output impedance would be nice to experiment with.  I have been assuming I’d stay with R2R but now I’m feeling a bit more open minded on the actual conversion.  I think the output stage in a dac is really the thing that is most interesting and could have the largest effect on its success in a system.


"I don’t want a hyper detailed dac… but something with a little bit more resolution"

I feel exactly the same way. A friend got the BP and, in his system, he said it was more "musical" than either the MHDT Orchid or the Bifrost 2/64; he got rid of both. I am reluctant to follow in his footsteps not only because I have tubes in other places (to "soften") but also because I want the *information* to be audible! This is not about "hyper detail" as you say, but about a very smooth and "musical" rendering that is nevertheless not hiding or "rolling off" anything. I believe that is something I have heard most evidently in the Holo May and Holo Spring DACs, but for now, I'm hearing enough of it in the Bifrost.

My best purchase ever after my AKG K340 is a dac...

The french battery dac NOS TDA 1543 of Christophe Mariac...

I got it on a bid on EBAY new from the designer himself for 15 bucks.... 😊 It sells new after that near 500 bucks ...

I used it with my very detailed modified small speakers ( 100 bucks ) ... A match in heaven...

I will never need to upgrade...😊 My small speakers beat most headphone anyway and my headphone AkG K340 beat most speakers put in a living room ...

Audiophile experience for small purse does not mean a soundfield with too much compromise at all...

I wrote this for those who dont have much money... Dont believe in market publicity nor in any reviewers ... Believe in your ears...Go with your ears and learn basic acoustics to understand Sound experience...

The best 50,000 bucks is in music purchase not in gear anyway, especially not in costlier dac...


@robbydouglas2 another vote for Black Ice - I'm using NOS Mullard's but I'd think the Bugle Boy's would be great as well.

@kuhyay I used to have MoFi UltraDeck with Hana ML cartridge and Sutherland 20/20 MkII LPS phono amp. Nice table!!!

The deck I’m using is a Bricasti M3 with Network card. You can use it as a Roon endpoint or use Mconnect app to stream Tidal and Qobuz. The M3 is a very nice DAC with none of the digital nasties that come with cheaper options. Also, you will not need your Wiim Pro Plus for two reasons - 1) you can run the M3 without a streamer and 2) it will beat the Wiim and other streamers like the bottom of the line Auralic and Lumin. 
There’s a good one on USAM now. Worth trying to bargain down and up your budget a but.


You’re welcome to try out my border patrol dac in your system for a couple weeks if you want to cover the shipping… it’s Spdif only fyi.

I’m now looking into the Bifrost… any thoughts on the “2” vs the “2/64”?

They have different chips and the 2/64 is truly balanced, which is not something I need right now. 
a used “2” can be purchased pretty cheaply and upgraded to the “2/64” later with a card from Schiit.


Do you recommend the M3 as a standalone streaming dac with the Ethernet input or do you use an external streamer too?

@j_andrews Thanks for the offer! I think I'll pass. Something someone said about keeping tubes out of the DAC made sense for me (a lot of other tubes in the system) and I want to stick with that. I believe "2" and "2/64" are equivalent.

@j_andrews I used it with Lumin U1 Mini for long enough to compare multiple times to running it as a standalone. I preferred the standalone. Sold the Lumin.