$10k high end DAC and amp upgrades

I’m looking to overhaul my system. Current chain:

PC → Cheap USB cable → Hugo 2 → custom silver cable → Utopia

My thinking is get:

  • A high end DAC
  • A good tube amp
  • A better USB cable and/or a galvanic isolator
  • Verité Closed (pretty much decided on this one already and will pick one up during ZMF November)

I like to listen to: Electronica, Pop, Rock, Classical
This is for my desktop setup. I listen mainly while I work. Qobuz is my jam.

So… since I really like the Hugo 2 I was considering the Dave + M scalar, but the Dave is a few years old and it looks like the state of the art has moved along.

My current thinking:

Holo May
Pendent or Forge

Ideas? Thoughts?


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I suggest these,

Holo Audio Spring
DNA Stratus
Verite Closed

If you are going for an A&S I’d get one of these
with the extra money saved from getting a spring instead of a May:

Bigger Ben
Mogwai SE (added Jupiter Caps.)


Schiit Yggdrasil + Forge with good tubes (ie Tung Sol, Psvane, NOS).

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Hugo 2 into a bottlehead crack was pretty great with my ZMF Auteur.

You may want to go one step at a time, starting with the headphones, then an amp, eespecially since you already have a very good source.

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Put in an order for a Stratus or Stellaris. Then compare VC and Utopia. Then evaluate what your preferred system is lacking based on your listening in order to make DAC, tube, cable selections.

Query whether you want to buy an interim amp for the DNA waiting period.


The Stratus seems to be special order only. I wonder what the availability is like.
Do you think the Spring is pretty close to the May? I don’t mind spending a little extra for better quality.

If I were to go with a non-R-2R DAC I might pick the Dave. Since I really like the sound of the Hugo 2, it might be a natural move. But the way people are praising the Holo May has me very curious.


Spring 3 will be close enough to the May
Stratus will be close enough to the Stellaris (wait times for both are 6-12 months).
Utopia and VC are two different beasts.

Running a DAVE as an all in one isnt a bad idea either for pure simplicity. The May is really good too.

For context I run a Utopia - Stellaris - May combo and cant fathom a Utopia/VC - Stratus - Spring3 not being fantastic. At the price point you are looking at you got options galore.


Another vote for the Stratus. I will need to check it out. How long is the “DNA waiting period”?

All DNA amps are made by one guy, the owner and designer so there’s only so much he can do. He might make 3-4 amps per months, maybe less. So you deal directly with him - he’s a lovely gent. Ive had two DNA amps.


Checking it out is worth your time. The wait time might vary based on the model (Starlett, Stratus, or Stellaris), but I understand it’s around 10-12 months now - pandemic supply chain issues dependent.


I have found that trying to keep components somewhat relevant in cost & quality has allowed me to better maximize what i get out of my end product (the music). Your source will eventually matter once your “back end” becomes sensitive enough to give you “everything” and becomes more sensitive to your cables, quality of the recording and power sources. Have fun and make some good purchases, that’s a good chunk of change you’re about to spend. :+1:

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Well, yes it is, but now, working from home, I find myself listening more and more. It has re-ignited my love of music and high end audio. :heart_eyes: I see this as the third step up for me. The first came just over 20 years ago when I bought the HD600. Then a second step was when I built the M^3 amp. I guess step 2.5 was the Hugo 2. I’m definitely ready for the next step. Ha ha.


I own two VC (monkeypod, stabilized maple burl) for the two locations I stay at. I own/have owned a variety of somewhat exotic amps and DACs. So far, the best combination I’ve enjoyed for VC is Sonnet Morpheus > ecp DHSA-3F nickel (not your typical solid state). Next best, replace ecp by Eddie Current Aficionado with a good choice of tubes. But ecp or EC are no longer being made.

The best headphones I own for EC Af are ZMF Auteur blackwood. Spring 2 KTE > EC Af > Auteur gets to a higher plane for strings (jazz, classical, solo guitar). I have a Stellaris Special on order, I’ll be very curious about how it works with different DACs and headphones. A Holo May KTE is also on the way. It will be hard to try all the combinations between these given their different locations. Being a bit of a digital nomad has its disadvantages :wink:


So we’re thinking along the same lines with the May and a high end tube amp (as well as the VC). I’m currently researching the Stratus and the Stellaris (as a result of recommendations in this thread – thanks!).

Did you consider any other DACs before settling on the Holo May? What about the DAVE + M-scalar?

Did you consider any other amps before settling on the Stellaris Special? Bigger Ben Rev 2?

do consider the rockna wavedream. absolutely superb.

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On amps: after a sequence of other amps, I landed on the Eddie Current Aficionado (Af) as a great match to my music, headphones, and subjective taste. When I started spending substantial time in a second location, I was lucky to get a second used Af, but I started also to investigate other 2A3-based amps, and after many conversations on various forums, I decided on the Stellaris Special.

On DACs: I own a Spring 2 KTE already, which I prefer to the Sonnet Morpheus I have at the other location, even though the Morpheus has quite a bit of what I like in NOS DACs (tonal density, material bass, upper-mid naturalness). The May KTE that’s on order will be a replacement for the Morpheus. I’ve read a lot of Wavedream reviews, some from people I trust from reviews of gear I know. I considered it, but those impressions did not quite convince me in relation to my particular tastes. I like the Spring 2 > Af > ZMF (various options) chain(s) so much that another Holo DAC and another 2A3 amp from a reputable maker were more attractive, especially given that I could not demo anything during the pandemic.

My low-confidence hunch is that the Wavedream would work better for me on a speaker system. But I just got a Linn Klimax DSM with their new Organik DAC driving powered ATC speakers, and this chain is completely slaughtering what I thought could be achieved in a living room. The Organik DAC is a weird beast, aggressive FPGA upsampling driving a discrete resistor array, probably closer in design to the Chord DACs than to anything else, but to my ears it weaves its way superbly between the NOS DACs I’ve heard and Chord. Anyway, that’s a digression. One day I’ll have a go at demoing a Wavedream, but for now I’m still firmly in Mr. Zhu’s camp for headphone system DACs.


Interesting. I’m of the opposite opinion where I actually prefer Morpheus over Spring 3 KTE. I felt the Spring 3 was too soft, smooth, and rounded off in terms of presentation comparatively. I currently have both in house right now. My amp of choice is the Mogwai SE w/ Jupiter caps after trying out many different amps for my headphones.

I’ve heard the Wavelight (not the Wavedream) and it wasn’t on my chain at home so I have little to comment there.


There have been some hints that Spring 3 and Spring 2 may be quite different. I don’t find the Spring 2 soft/smooth at all, in fact less so than Morpheus. But I do upsample 44.1 and 48 2x in Roon for Spring 2, which removes a slight smearing. I don’t do that for Morpheus currently, but I will fairly soon and then I’ll see.

Note that EC Af is closer to a solid-state amp in dynamics, edge, and less warm, than some other tube amps, which complements the Holo DACs just right for me. I don’t find the match as good with Morpheus.

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Great question and lots of good options mentioned. My 2C:
The May is a definite jump up in quality and presentation over the Spring3. There’s just more of everything that makes Holo R2R so great. I’d avoid going the preamp route in Spring3. I prefer the May to DAVE but YMMV and at this level there are no real losers. Wavedream gets good reviews too. My pick for the DAC would be Mola Mola Tambaqui. The most realistic DAC I’ve heard and heaps better than dCS Bartok. It’s all about synergy in the components, the genres you listen to, sound preferences and source data - whether that be streaming, storage, CD or vinyl…or tape!
Utopia and VC are two ends of the HP spectrum and great options. Both scale well with the right amp. A+S, DNA, EC and Woo are all good options. I’d add the Auris Nirvana as my pick. Perhaps stick a 1266 Phi TC in there for some “wall of sound” or a Susvara for tonal warmth. You’re in audio heaven!