What’s the best DAC < 6k (system specific)

I have a decent DAC built into my SS integrated amp but think I can do better with a stand-alone. I’m looking for accuracy, definition and sound stage. Emphasis on sound stage. I have few vinyl albums and find that the ones that sound really good are quite expensive. So, trying to improve the streaming to it brings or approximates that magical HQ vinyl sound. Maybe I’m chasing a red herring but, from what I read, there are some boxes out there that can come darn close. Has anyone compared the Holo May KTE with the T+A DAC 200 or similarly priced products? I know the T+A is a little more but I don’t mind used too. I went from Border Patrol SEi to Ayre Codex to Ayre QB9 Twenty. When I changed my Pass Int 60 amp to one with built in DAC, I thought it sounded better than the QB 9. Actually the QB 9 had more detail than the amp DAC. However, Using the new amp’s (Hegel 590) DAC bypass, to my ear, the QB9 is somewhat fatiguing during extended sessions so, I’m using the smoother, marginally less detailed Hegel built in DAC. There are no places to demo equipment near me so, I have heretofore depended on forums such as this for decisions, of wihich have been very satisfactory thus far. I love pure jazz sounds like the guitar plucked from the fingers of Bill Frisell and John Schofield; the edgy sound of a tenor saxophone; the sultry female voices of Melody Gardot, Chantal Chamberlain and others. Enjoy classic rock as well.

My system:

Hegel 590 Integrated Amp+DAC

digital streamer pis Innuos Zenith MK3 with Innous Phoenix reclocker (strmg Qobuz)

analog is VPI Classic/Transfiguration Axia cart into Parasound JC3+
Magico A3 spkrs w/Audio Sensibility Statement cables.

I was using Audio Sensibility Statement silver interconnects for the QB 9 which I still have to use with a stand-alone.

I know that good sound is more often a matter of taste. However, I am still interested in the opinions of others in this forum and welcome yours if you have one.

Thanks in advance.


A used Audio Research DAC 9, Berkeley Alpha 3 comes to mind. Should hit in the right price range. One of the ad vantages of the Audio Research is that it is going to sound a bit more analog and musical than most. 

I highly recommend a contemporary used DAC… in general if you can get into the $10K area by buying used your going to be getting in the next level up. No moving parts, so reliability of a great DAC is not going to be an issue.

That’s a good price range for a DAC.
To me the A3 are slightly dark sounding. Used Chord DAVE should be nice with these speakers. So are the the DACs recommended by @ghdprentice above. Check the ARC DAC for compatible with your streamer if you’re planning on using USB.
Bricasti M1SE or M1SE2 used are very good DACs. 
But I really think the DAVE will be a nice match with the Magico A3 as it will bring out a bit more detail and breath more life into the presentation. 

Everything you’re saying would seem to point to a tubed DAC. The ARC mentioned above would be a solid choice, add I’ll add that Lampizator would be another brand to check out along with Holo. Best of luck.

Look at a used Aqua Acoustics R2R DAC. I have the La Voce mk2 which was about $3200 a few years ago and it remains in my LR system. It is one of the best sounding DACs I have ever heard. R2R DACS=analogue sound

Mytek Manhattan makes a great dac with mqa in that price range and is Stereophile class A 

Yes in fact I am buying the T+A 200 after taxes ,our multi state audio club 

we have had compared 6 dacs upto $15k 8nclud8ng the mola mola 

and chord David ,Denafrips terminator 12+, holomay KTE 

Lascala top dac and new Meitner  Briscati21

the T+A had not only the most natural balance but built in HQ player and several settings for it which is a powerful program if you want to learn it to tune your system  even better and built into the back end of Roon , and has a separate R2R for DSD 

Also the separate preamp section is a excellent if you wanted to use it pure class A and totally descreet circuit ,the whole unit is galvanically isolated, internally I have never seen a dac this high tech totally different then the competition and uses 8-BB dac chips to lower the noise floor further similar in that sence to the great Accuphase in think#78 it’s not real big only around 14 pounds ,the dual meters too are useful and have 3 settings it’s a steal and ifyou shop around you can get15% off ,upscale audio  had a demo unit  for $6200 just last week we had a 2 day event .that’s what’s cool about hav8ng the time and don’t mind driving state to state,

I have heard some excellent systems way out out of my paygrade but Audio is fun.


Look at a used Aqua Acoustics R2R DAC. I have the La Voce mk2 which was about $3200 a few years ago and it remains in my LR system. It is one of the best sounding DACs I have ever heard. R2R DACS=analogue sound

As it happens, I have a La Voce S2 I’m looking to sell. PM me if interested.

+1 on the Aqua DACs. Their "entry" DAC is the La Voce S2 which I had in my system; and later upgraded it to their S3 (the upgrade was about $1,500 and requires it to be sent back to the factory in Italy). For my ears there wasn't a very discernible difference between the S2 and S3 versions. Meanwhile, I had an opportunity to buy their highest level DAC (the Aqua Formula) used, so further upgraded to that. I don't know what stuartk is asking for his Aqua Voce mk2 but I'd jump on it if it's within reason. The sound from these is really organic and also, like stuartk, is the best I've ever heard. You can find some reviews of the La Voce from when it first was offered (maybe 5- 7 years ago). I believe the cost new is in the $5K range. 

thebingster thank you and everyone else who commented. I’m waiting on stuartk’s ad. I hope the La Voce is better than what I sold already ie the Ayre QB9 twenty!

rx8man thanks for sharing. I don’t doubt that’s a fine DAC and that you enjoy it. For twice my budget you very well should. I like that it’s made in USA too. I’m sure that DAC, even if it could be found in the used market, is beyond my reach.

i have the hegel 590 and using its internal dac, the sound is very neutral (not warm) with very flat treble response... that along with your magicos and silver cables can lead to a sense of brightness, especially with the innuos front end

when listening to the ayre qb9, your use of silver interconnects may also contribute to the sense of forward aggressive treble

this said, i would suggest considering of any of the following (two lower priced, three higher priced, if you are patient you can find them used)

good luck!

1) a modwright tubed cambridge cxn v2 streamer/dac

2) a well modded mhdt orchid tube buffered dac

3) an msb analog dac

4) a chord hugo tt2 with m scaler

5) a mojo audio mystique v3 (or higher)

all will provide excellent clarity, soundstage and openness, but with a sense of ease through the treble region and overall musicality that is superior to the internal dac of the h590 -- all also will bring a real magic/palpability to voices such as melody gardot, chantal chamberlain and the like

when listening to the ayre qb9, your use of silver interconnects may also contribute to the sense of forward aggressive treble

jss49 wow! Exactly what I was thinking! You seem to have diagnosed my situation right on. Love this forum. I will study your recommendations. Thanks!

I also owned the Ayre QB9 twenty. I replaced it with a Mojo Audio DAC. The Mojo DAC left the Ayre in the dust. Ben Zwickel's Mojo Audio products have won multiple awards. Ben is available by phone to answer any of your questions. He has some discounted offerings with trial auditions. Check out his website. mojo-audio.com.



There is a video out there comparing the T+A 200 DAC and the Holo May.KTE and it is here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JKxqXUeFSg0  

I have the T+A DAC (only had it in use for a month or so) but I can't really speak to any comparisons. 

dz13 what did you replace with your t+a 200 and how would you describe the differences? Are you thrilled with the t+a?

Previously I ran my PC through an ifi iDSD which allows choice of a solid state, hybrid or tube section. I expected to be thrilled by the T+A but I can't say that I am although there are many variables and I'm still trying out a few things. The main issue is that I don't hear enough that makes up for the price (although I mostly traded for the T+A). 

There are many posters and reviewers who say they hear major differences. It could be my system. It could be my ears. It could be co-ax vs. usb. It could be the music I listen to. Plus I also got an Aurender N200 put in at the same time I can't completely compare the DACs because of the different sources. I've posted this before that with the two new units, I hear improvements and continuing improvements and I haven't really listened long enough for a 100 break in -- but right now the price doesn't justify the differences. 


I’ve owned both the Aqua La Voce S2 and the S3 and contrary to an earlier poster I found the difference in the two to be significant and well worth the upgrade. I went from there to a Holo May KTE which I find to have a similar sound profile just more of it. If you don’t want to go to the top of your price range then the Spring 3 KTE will get you 90%+ of the May and ahead of even the S3 Aqua. I own all three.  If you want to try a La Voce then there is an S3 listed on Audiogon for a fair price. 


I fairly recently purchased the T+A DAC 200 after an extended home audition (thanks Juan at Bliss Hifi - great dealer to work with - highly recommended!).

I was also considering going up to the T+A SD 3100 HV - their reference DAC. 

Initially, in comparison to my Auralic Vega G2.1 DAC - the DAC 200 was only slightly better - but mostly just different - the Auralic unit is quite good. I had tried the various inputs (AES, s/pdif, AES EBU. All good. All different. (Incidentally, I have not tried the analog preamp section of the DAC as I don’t need that functionality so i can’t comment on that element.)

However, after working with the DAC 200 more, I found out how good it really is when set up and fed properly. 

As someone previously mentioned, they have separate paths for PCM and DSD decoding. I prefer the latter. As does T+A.

While T+A has NOS and upsampling built in, I found feeding the DAC with DSD 512 via my Auralic Aries G2 streamer and Auralic Sirius processor to be a particularly good combo. While i may yet try a higher end streamer like Aurender N20 or N30, I think the benefit of such (and I’m a big fan of better streamers) might not be as great because the Sirius processor I already own is really beneficial.

I gather similar results might be achieved using HQ player to do something similar as that is what T+A strongly recommends. Doing so to feed the DSD path is what they suggest is the highest performing channel.

To those others who have the DAC 200 - try it this way. I’d be curious as to your experience. It took the performance of the DAC up significantly for me.

Bottom line is that the DAC 200 offers flexibility that few others have and exceptional performance at its price point. Certainly the best I’ve heard at this price point - and I’ve heard quite a few at the top end, including the aforementioned SD 3100 HV ($35k) from a previous audition, Ideon Absolute ($45k), Linn DSM/3 ($40k), etc. Is it better than those units? No. Is it close? Very. Is it a better value? Unquestionably. 

I’m sure the other DACs mentioned in this thread are also very good. I haven’t heard them so can’t compare. So - I hope this helps, but as in all things, YMMV. 

@mgrif104 That's interesting stuff. I saw a review on the T+A which said the DSD section was excellent whereas the PCM was good. I am new to this stuff so I'm going to have to figure out how to use the DSD section. 

The other thing about the T+A is that it also has a decent preamp section which I've been considering taking advantage of. 


The S3 is No longer there at Audiogon but, thanks  for the insight. I’ll keep checking the markets for one to come available.


@hysteve I have the Chord TT2 and Chord Mscaler it’s a very dimensional and easy to listen to pair. I also use Auralic Aries G2.2 as my streamer, and Shunyata Sigma USB, and a pair of Shunyata Sigma v.2 BNC terminated S/PDIF’ cables for the dual input setup. It sounds really really good. Fast, dynamic, musical, focused.. very easy to listen to.


the T+A had not only the most natural balance but built in HQ player

This statement is not correct. I checked on Audiophilestyle site and understand that many users use the HQ Player to upscale PCM to 256/512 DSD which is a pure an separate path in the DAC 200.


@dz13 ,

I saw a review on the T+A which said the DSD section was excellent whereas the PCM was good.

I suggest that you search the head-fi site and read up some user feedback on the PCM side of the DAC 200. While most people rave about the DSD side of this DAC, apparently the PCM section is also no slouch. It is just that it take about 100+ hours to get to it's best.

The HQ player for the T&A 200 dac is a true statement 

it has several algorithms built in ,as an option to use if you want to incorporate HQ player to Taylor the sound to your taste ,and it’s built into the back end of Roon

even Innuos now except it , my friend owns one There fore what I am stated is true.

It is  a built in Option, Your choice ,and the program is around $200 and you have to have extra HD space and minimum 8 mgs of ram 16 preferred.

Without any doubt I have heard most everything out there 

and Ithe T+A 200 dac buying a demo,or decent discount you can buy one 

I have not found Any dac even at 2x the price that is better i a currently saving for one but have 2 friends that own one ,it is special ,it is very natural and nothing 

in your face and plenty of depth of 8mage and texture , check out the reviews in print and you tube tthe closest in price the Holosprings may KTE,and Denafrips terminator + 12th , but are not on this level. 

@audioman58 ,

All I am saying that the HQ player is not "built in" the T+A DAC 200.

It is a separate software on a Wndows/Linux PC/laptop that you need to install, then feed the T+A with the DSD (64/128/256/512/1024) of your choice. People will get confused reading your statement on 1/14 above.


I’m streaming Qobuz through Innuos Zenith MK3. I just researched Innous 2.2 and it allows me to use HQ player with the streamer as a standalone endpoint. So apparently I don’t need anything extra but the Innuos 2.2 upgrade. I have done several Innuos upgrades in the past and don’t know what level I’m at currently but, will check. Thank you!

Best price/performance DACs in your price range:

  • T+A 200
  • Lampizator Baltic 4

I pin my multi state audio get togethers it’s been unanimous the T+A 200 dac-preamp by a large amount is better then Not only Anything  in its price class 

but betters most anything  at 2x it’s price ,find a dealer where you can audition one .I am currently saving for one and over 11 people that have listened to it bought it

and that’s against Anything under $12k  just in the north east that has heard it ,that is saying a lot no BS or hype even the preamp section  is excellent !!

@audioman58 ,

All I am saying that the HQ player is not "built in" the T+A DAC 200.

@audioman58, GoldenSound has a review up of the T+A DAC200.    He mentions major differences in sound quality between the PCM and DSD paths, and also mentions having to feed it a DSD input for best sound quality may be a pain for some folks (e.g. paying for and running HQPlayer or something similar on a powerful PC).    I fit in the latter camp as I'm happy with my PCM streamer and wouldn't personally purchase this DAC for its PCM input.    The Ferrum Wandla is next on my radar :)



I want to update my experience with the T+A DAC200. I've continued to use it and the Aurender N200 streamer and the sound opened up and I'm hearing detail I hadn't heard before so I'm now in the phase of enjoying everything (whether it be on the SSD or Qobuz). 

I use a Pass 250, Aurender N200 to a recently purchased May KTE. I have never been happier. I like Warm, not hyper-detail. The combo works so well together, it is as if I am using a turntable. I have had a schitt Ygg, various Denefries, up to the top terminator. Never really satisfied. I'm sure the other mentioned Dac's are good, but I was shocked at how good the May is in my system

I love my Hegel H590 integrated amp strictly as an amp/preamp.  I never even considered using the H590s internal DAC.  Sure, I thought the H590s internal DAC sounded lovely when I auditioned it, but I knew that I could do better with a higher-end outboard DAC.  Anyway, my search ended with the absolutely incredible Ayre Acoustics QX-5 Twenty reference DAC.  Happy listening.

I finally popped for the “new” DAC. A slightly used t+a 200. Sounds mahvalus! But, has no hdmi. Trying to figure out how to listen to dsd as I gather it may be even better than pcm.

@hysteve ,

Trying to figure out how to listen to dsd as I gather it may be even better than pcm.

This will depend on, if you have DSD files OR are using a SACD transport/player with HDMI out. If the latter, then you probably need either a D.BOB Digital breakout box OR the HDMI cards installed in the DAC 200.

But if you have DSF/DFF files, then you need USB connection.