High end DAC upgrade

I am looking to upgrade (sidegrade?) my DAC from Holo May KTE that I recently sold. Here is my current chain:

Source: SonicTransporter i7 → opticalRendu → Curious USB
Amps: Eddie Current Studio B 300B (single ended), CFA3 (single ended + balanced)
Headphones (in order of usage): 1266 TC, Utopia OG, LCD-4, Atrium, Grado GS3000x

Music preference (in order of most listened): Metal (everything ranging from extreme, doom, thrash, stoner etc.), rock (alt, classic), jazz (mostly old, bebop), blues. I typically stream from Qobuz but have a small local FLAC collection.

Budget - flexible ($5-8k)

I upgraded to May from Bifrost 2/64 which I am back to using now, had they May for about 4 months and really enjoyed it and already miss it. The main reason for selling May was to try tube DACs, specifically DHT DACs but I am not sure anymore, especially because it might be too tube-y with the Studio B and I even run the CFA3 with Studio B pre.

I enjoyed the May a lot but in the next one, I am looking for that will have good synergy with the rest of my system. I think I am more or less settled on my amps. I might add a Stratus/Stellaris at some point or more likely a Riviera AIC-10 down the line.

I thought I used to like a more flavored sound, especially with ZMFs but after getting used to 1266 TC and Utopia, I think I prefer a more neutral-ish sound signature with a bigger stage for metal/rock and intimate stage for jazz and if I really want a warmer signature, I have a bunch of ZMFs. Both Studio B and CFA3 are not very warm leaning and I would like DAC to stay in that ballpark but not very digital sounding.

Some requirements

  • prefer R2R with good NOS
  • prefer to support small independent boutique builders
  • prefer used if possible or new with good return policy
  • should have good single ended performance
  • should have good USB implementation (not a deal breaker but would be nice)

Here are some of the options I’m considering

  • Mojo Mystique X
  • totaldac d1-tube (possibly mk2)
  • Lampizator Atlantic TRP
  • Rockna Wavelight/Wavedream
  • Acuhorn XT
  • Aqua La Scala
  • SW1X DAC III
  • Abbas

Any help/suggestions are welcome.

Cheers,
Karan

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I’m not a huge fan of the LaScala, and I own and like the La Voce, it’s just too relaxed for my preferences, but they are relatively easy to hear.
The later Lampizators (Baltic is in your prices range) tend to be more dynamic, and less mid forwards, but by all accounts the Atlantic is really good, and even in that generation, they weren’t overly tubey.

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That’s interesting about LaScala, I was curious about it being tube hybrid. Anything particular you didn’t like about it? I have heard good things about La Voce.

I am slowly getting more familiar with the Lampizator line but they have a lot of products and different generations within each product so tends to get a bit overwhelming for a newcomer.

Which generation are you referring to? The Lampizator NA site doesn’t mention generations on Atlantic TRP page but I see a used listing here which mentions a TRP 3.

Also, any experience with the Golden Gate Atlantic version?

I’d go something like one of these:

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Could always look at some totaldac options too.

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Right, Berkeley is also on my radar. Forgot to list it in my original post. Don’t know much about Nagra though, I’ll add to the list and do some research.

Thanks for reminding me totaldac. I’ve heard it mentioned but it wasn’t on my radar. Will look into it as well.

While I haven’t heard it, I hear that Berkeley dacs benefit greatly from a strong digital front-end as well, so take that into account.

Also, if you wanted a list of dacs and some insight on their general presentations I’d recommend checking this article out. I find it very useful and worth reading…

There’s also a pt.3 (same website) in case you ever get curious about even more higher-end dacs. Lol

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Thanks for linking the article, I have seen it and it’s higher end version :slight_smile: It’s definitely very informative, especially in terms of understanding various nuances and things to look for. Even though many of the dacs in that article are not what I am looking for, I do find it useful read.

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Have you thought about the wavedream?

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It’s one of the options he’s considering (via 1st post)…

Also @KaranGovil, you might want to look into Abbas dacs as well. It should also meet most of your requirements (minus USB).

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Yes, Abbas is on the list as well although I forgot to mention it. I need to update my list in the OP. There are so many dacs, its quite confusing (it was almost easier when I got swept by the May)

Yes, Wavedream/Wavelight is definitely a consideration. Current frontrunners are Mojo Mystique X and totaldac d1-tube-mk2, although both are pushing my budget. Apparently Vincent has a few new models coming out soon as well.

Ah yeah. It’s been a bit since I read it. It popped in my mind and thought I’d throw it out there.

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The advantage of Mojo Audio and TotalDAC is their audition policy, so you’re only out the shipping if you don’t like it. Mojo gives you 45 days to try it out. It takes some of the stress out of the equation by removing the guesswork.

I really like my Mojo Mystique X SE. My music preferences are primarily alternative rock/punk and classic rock (in that order) followed by a little classical and jazz, so I think there’s some overlap in our preferences.

It’s not a ‘studio neutral’ DAC like the Benchmark DAC, but I don’t think it’s that colored either, although I haven’t done any A-B comparisons. I will say that it gives rock music a big beefy sound, and does bass really well.

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It’s just REALLY laid back, I loke good dynamics. Should be relatively easy to find a localish dealer to hear it for yourself

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I know 2 people who’ve owned them and loved them, I have a Pacific, and I generally really like the Lampizator Sound, the crux of it is the combination of Dynamics and tonal weight.

Older Lampizator’s including the GG were R2R, the current ones are all DS DAC chips, not that you’d know.
Pretty much with every iteration they’ve gotten dryer, though with the current ones there is still some midrange warmth (more or less) depending on the tubes, but they are closer to neutral than anything tubey.

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Is there anything in particular that you find the May not synergising well enough for your setup?

For what it’s worth I’m using a wavedream signature with my zmf and studio b. Probably the most dynamic and nuanced dac I’ve heard which goes well with any tube amps especially one as dynamic as the studio b. Pairs amazingly well with my DNA Starlett as well.

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Buy back the Holo May. I have Holo Spring KTE and it’s amazing.

I don’t think there was anything really very off with May synergy wise, I just mentioned that as I had listed the rest of my chain. May was a very good upgrade for me but after some time, it felt a bit artificial and not as neutral and dynamic as I was hoping for.

Just curious, what made you choose the Signature edition? As far as I can tell, the main difference is that the Signature editions has 12dB THD+N and 10dB dynamic range. Since Studio B is single ended and I run my CFA3 with Studio B pre mostly, I’m a little torn on whether to spring for the extra for the balanced version as well.

We share a similar experience as well… Well not the may but the spring for me (heard they sound similar though). There was also some grain in the upper mids that I didn’t like. I think many people don’t realize how colored the Holo dacs are until you compare it with other dacs. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

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The other recent DAC’s I’ve had extended listening time was the OPPO Sonica (a nice mid-range unit) and PS Audio DirectStream MK1. The PS Audio DAC was superbly clear and musical, though warm in presentation. I may have bought the recently released MK2, but it took the company 9 months to fix supply chain problems and could not wait that long.

Also PS Audio’s debacle getting caught fibbing performance claims put me off.

Interesting you thought the Holo May was colored. Most of the reviews find it really neutral and the Spring 3 KTE presents neutral as well. You’re probably hearing something I’m not; which is likely. The May’s oversampling is the weak link in my opinion.