10 Favorite DACs:
With nothing on the horizon, at least that I’m aware of, that I’m looking forward to/expecting to improve the state of digital replay, I figured this was as good a time as any to list my current favorite items in a number of product categories – starting with DACs.
This isn’t an invitation to debate my choices. Yours will likely be very different – which is great. These are mine . I’m not getting into why I prefer unit A over unit B, nor why unit Y or Z didn’t make my list. It’s simply a statement about what my favorite units are, for the purposes of enjoying recorded music, at the current point in time.
Some of these units may include headphone outputs/pre-amp functionality but are evaluated here purely as DACs (some of which include additional components/modules to get where they are, e.g. the M-Scalers with the Chord DACs – and may rank differently if not used).
- Chord DAVE (via Blu Mk2 or Hugo M-Scaler)
- MSB Select DAC (with Femto 33 clock and 2x Mono Powerbases)
- dCS Vivaldi (w/ Upsampler and Master Clock)
- Linn Klimax DSM/3 (Katalyst)
- Hugo TT 2 (via Hugo M-Scaler)
- dCS Bartok
- Schiit Yggdrasil A2 (w/ Unison USB)
- Mola Mola Tambaqui
- Matrix X-Sabre Pro MQA
- Schiit Bifrost 2
There is no consideration of value in this listing. If there was, it’d likely be somewhat different, though not necessarily dramatically so. Nor am I taking into account measured performance. The only consideration is how much I enjoy listening to music via the pieces in question.
Some other thoughts:
Notably, there are no NOS (non-oversampling) DACs on this list. If we went back in time a couple of years, there probably would be – despite their latent issues. But even when owning them, I gradually, and organically, found myself spending ever greater portions of my listening time with oversampling DACs – until I wasn’t using the NOS stuff at all.
DSD has proven to be a bust in my listening – whether end-to-end native, or converted on the fly. Sure, a few DACs do sound better when they are fed DSD content than they do processing PCM, even if it is converted on the fly from PCM sources. However, I think that says more about the implementation of those DAC than it does about any supposed benefit to DSD itself. It’s just not worth dealing with OTF conversions or the extremely limited native catalog for something that isn’t specifically better than simple PCM.
MQA has turned out to be little more than an uninteresting distraction for me. Other than the occasional “better” master being used for MQA releases (which, when it happens, also sounds better on non-MQA hardware and would also likely sound better just as raw PCM), I’ve found it to be detrimental or more than beneficial.
Finally, for Hi-Res playback, other than sometimes yielding a reduction in listening fatigue in long listening sessions, the only real benefits here, with competent DACs at least, are more about such releases occasionally being from different, “better”, masters than any of the other claims made for it.