Mid-Tier DAC For DSD

Another post that might seem hilarious for veterans but I am honestly confuzzled.
Long story short, I’ve been getting more and more into DSD Chopin and Vivaldi. However, today when my PC said I can’t just double click DSD files (and play them…) I learned that you need a DAC (I’ve been only playing them off of M11 and my mobo goes up to 24/192 so I never quite noticed anything on PC), so now I need a DAC for my CTH & 789.
Any recommendations?
Price under $500~800? (The upper limit is something like Topping D70).
Preferably 9038e2q / akm4497 / 9038 pro / akm 4499 (if those are out yet?).
Current setup 789 + CTH > Ananda / Clear. (Assuming diff. headphones need diff. DACs?)
Honestly, just something that can play DSD512 and doesn’t sound worse than the 9023e2q on my mobo.
P.S. when you get the DAC do you have to get a driver or can you just plug it right in?
Sincerely Apperciated,

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You don’t need a DAC to play DSD files from your PC.

Depending on what software you are using to play your music files, you may simply need to configure it to do on-the-fly conversion of DSD to PCM. Also some music-players may need a plug-in to read DSD files, which will be necessary with, or without a DSD-capable DAC.

If you want to play DSD files without PCM conversion (i.e. “natively”), then you will need a DSD-capable DAC (you may, still, also require a plug-in for your music player software).

You do not need different DACs for different headphones.

The OS you’re running, and the specific DAC in question, will determine if you need a driver or not. If you’re on Windows, which I assume you are since you’re talking specifically about your motherboard, then unless you’re on Windows 10 you will require a driver. Otherwise, you may only need the driver for special features, enhanced performance, or support for native DSD on non-standard interfaces.

You could just use the M11 as a USB DAC when you want DSD replay. Though it is, I believe, limited to DSD256. Requiring DSD512 support will limit your options quite a bit.

There are, to my knowledge, no shipping products (much less of any repute) that use the AKM 4499 at this time. There aren’t many for the 4497 either, even outside that price range.

Possible things to possibly consider include:

  • iFi Audio Micro iDSD Black Label
  • Oppo Sonica
  • Pro-Ject Pre Box S2 Digital
  • Singxer SDA-2
  • SMSL SU8
  • Topping D50
  • Topping DX3 Pro
  • Topping DX7s
  • Topping D70

Do not take the above list as endorsements or recommendations, it’s just a list of DACs and DAC/amps (not many pure DACs in that price range with DSD512 support, but all of the above have line-outs so can be used with your existing amplifiers) that meet your requirements.

And I have not heard the SDA-2 or D70 at all at this point.


Tysm, sheer appreciation!
Out of the list tho, which one would you say is the best all-rounder? I’ve only seen the SU8, D70, and DX7S being mentioned.

Pro-Ject Pre Box S2 Digital just arrived. I am using it right now.

I don’t have any DSD 512 files.

With Jriver I am limited to DSD256 upsampling.
Using HQ player, I can upsample everything to DSD512 and the dac shows 512 on it’s screen.

However, I am waiting for nvidia video card and I7 processor to arrive on Saturday.
My lowly g4400 with video is choking while doing upsampling, usually at 99% to 100% usage.

This would not be an issue with native DSD512.


There is no clear nor simple answer to that. It will depend on a number of factors, most personal, including, but not limited to, whether you want just a pure DAC, what formats, if any, beyond DSD512 you want, and what sources you use.

The ProJect unit has the broadest proper format support. It can do high-res PCM, DSD512 and hardware MQA decoding. The iFi unit can do either MQA decoding OR DSD512, but the firmware that enables one disables the other (so with MQA-supporting firmware you can only get DSD256).

If you’re going to use the headphone output (can’t see why you would with the amps you have, but that doesn’t mean you won’t) then the Pro-Ject unit lacks power and the DX7s has such (nonsensically) high output impedance that it causes problematic FR interactions with the Clear (and pretty much every other low-impedance dynamic headphone).

The D50 is competent, at least from lossless sources, but I found audible issues, resulting in very rapid-onset-of-fatigue with it when fed from Spotify (other lossy streaming sources didn’t have an issue) and set at 0 dBFS. Operating at -3 dBFS helped, but that’s just trading one issue for another.

It’s just-announced replacement, the D50s may fix those issues. But I won’t be trying it to see.

I’d have the most hope for the SDA-2, but that could be entirely misplaced as I’ve never heard it. Can’t comment on the D70 either, sound-wise. Looks good on paper; so do a lot of other products.

But … you’re probably better off asking someone that uses these things as their primary DACs.

For me, they meet the criteria you specified. I’ve owned (past tense) three of them; I’m intrigued by two of them - but not so much to want to spend the time to audition them. And beyond that they’re just units I’ve got the specs for in my head and matched what you asked for.


I also have an eye out for DSD512 dacs for use with HQ player upsampling.
I suppose one might inch up the money tree a bit and consider the Holo Cyan DSD.
I wonder how the SDA-2 would compare?

Sitting on the fence right now. The Gungnir MB A2 is no slouch but this Pro-Ject box is competing quite well with the limited upsampling that I can manage now.

I see Kitsune has the SDA-2…

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I’ve experimented pretty extensively with HQPlayer and it’s various upsampling, noise-shaping, and filtering options. I’ve done this on very high-end hardware (32C/64T CPUs with TOTL GPU compute capacity). I’ve done it with DACs ranging from $200 to $25,000.

In many cases I’ve heard differences.

In most, almost all in fact, cases I could not honestly say that the differences were better. They weren’t necessarily worse either. They were just different.

In the few cases I would say there were actual improvements it was invariably just in comparison to using the same DAC without HQPlayer on high-spec settings.

The most notable improvement I’ve heard using HQPlayer and DSD conversion/upsampling and advanced filtering was with the Holo Audio CYAN (DSD). If you already had a suitably powerful PC that you could use for this, and the only incremental cost was the HQPLayer license, it was worth doing. Otherwise, it just wasn’t cost effective (CPU and GPU alone cost more than a TOTL Spring DAC - which sounded better natively) even in the rare cases where there was any sense of improvement at all.

At best I can say, “For people who like that sort of thing, it’s the sort of thing they like.”

Also known as … your mileage my vary … and I don’t expect everyone will come to the same conclusions that I did (but as long as it’s not my money they’re spending, that’s all fine).

As for the Cyan DSD vs. SDA-2 … with or without HQPlayer it’s hard to say.

I know I put a couple of people here in touch with Tim at Kitsune, in the interests of auditioning and potentially reviewing the SDA-2. I also know that I won’t be one of them. I’m interested in the outcome - just not enough to do the auditioning and comparisons myself.

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I run a 9900k and 2080ti FTW, do you think it will run HQPlayer properly?

You should be able to upsample to DSD512 and run the non-2s filters (e,g. “poly-sinc-xtr-mp”) on that. And you’ll be able to run the higher-order noise-shaper options (maybe the highest).

It might not be real-time (some initial pre-buffering) … and you probably won’t be able to do much else on the machine, but it’s enough for the most important parts.

If you start with DSD512 there won’t be any upsampling at all. Downsampling to use your motherboard dac should not be any where near as intensive a process.

That is nice to hear.
I just saw your review of the R-2R DAC on massdrop, aside from not supporting DSD256+, do you think it would go well with my current setup (789 & CTH)?
Really tempted to pick it up.

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I like it with the THX AAA 789 and liked it with the CTH. It’ll pair well with pretty much any competent amplifier.

I have a whole thread on the RDAC, and various pairings, here.

Personally, based on listening, the minuscule library, and all the faffing about required (be it special software, hardware, or asinine file sizes), I think DSD at any rate is not a lot more than a distraction for those that are more interested in listening to “gear” and quoting “specs” and “fiddling around” than they are in enjoying music.

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FWIW, I6700 and Geforce 1650 can handle any HQ player upsampling I throw at it
Jury is still out on this as an upgrade. I suppose a Holo Spring might scratch the itch.
Darthpool has an SDA-2.
I’ll wait a couple weeks for his review, unless kitsune has a summer special :crossed_fingers:

First listen and I must say it is a really good implementation…very enjoyable. Regarding the SDA-2, first thoughts are it is better than the monolith THX788 easily…more “musical” and just as resolving as the ADI-2DAC…but with almost no features, only digital filters for Sharp/Slow/NOS etc…as an AIO it is pretty competitive.

Upsampling, yes.

Now try that combined with the high end filters and 9th-order noise shaping …

Because without the latter, the former is just a distraction.

So, what am I missing?

this uses a bit more of the cuda

The actual settings dialog would be a lot more useful … rather than bits of the main screen and task manager …

Beyond which, I’d have to fire the relevant machine up again to see how I had it configured. But Jussi is the one to ask for the (current) highest quality settings.