Originally Posted by HamilcarBarca
That's how the snake-oil vendors market their wares. Unfortunately, there's zero reason for a $100 conversion chip. Once an audio DAC is transparent, the rest is chrome and glitter.
IOW, the difference between a good $100 DAC and any $500 DAC is $400
This isn't meant for you directly, so I hope it doesn't offend too much, but the problem with sound science/engineering adherents is that there is no room for flavor, opinion, subjective experience in what we hear, or more importantly, like to hear. There is also no room for business or marketing. No one can stay in business just by making something that works and passing it along at cost of parts. You have to have profits to invest in R&D for future products. And in order to have profits, you have differentiate yourself from your competitors and figure out the right value to place on that differentiation. That is a large part of what marketing really is. Even if there isn't a 100% correlation between features and their impact on function, it doesn't automatically mean it is snake oil. And just because close-minded people cannot imagine things beyond our current measuring capabilities, doesn't mean that other things don't exist. I don't believe there is a standard measurement for soundstage, but someone would look quite the fool to claim that different components didn't influence soundstage reproduction in different ways.
It is over simplistic, and not helpful to people sincerely looking to educate themselves to say once an audio DAC is transparent, everything else is superfluous.
For the OP, the main differences have already been stated. Input stage, D/A stage, output stage. The Modi is an excellent budget DAC, and the differences going up the chain are going to be relative to your other components. Whether they are worth your money, is entirely dependent on you and what you want out of this hobby. This is a very niche hobby where the law of diminishing returns is king. The difference between a $100 DAC and a $2500 DAC may only be 10% in actual quality, but for those people who are willing to spend the extra money to get that 10%, then it is worth it for them, and sitting in judgement on them and the manufacturers who cater to them is plain silly.
Try the DACs. See if you hear a difference, like the difference and believe the difference to be worth it to you. Return or sell what you don't want. The market for most mainstream components is pretty fair and moves quickly.