On the search for a "musical" dac under $3k
post-14832307
Thread Starter
Post #1 of 29

lukeslens

Head-Fier
Joined
Dec 11, 2018
Messages
95
Reaction score
40
Location
Champaign, Illinois
Joined
Dec 11, 2018
Location
Champaign, Illinois
Posts
95
Likes
40
Hi all,
I've been doing deep research for the past several weeks to try to find the upgrade dac in my system. After upgrading my headphones this Christmas to the Focal Clears, I've been wanting to really upgrade my system to match and bring out more musical potential.

I currently have an RME ADI-2 that was an upgrade from a Teac UD-501 and that is going into a Questyle CMA600i (I'm planning on upgrading to a tube amp as well as the second part of this journey). I think the ADI-2 is a really wonderful dac and the DSP featuers are phenomenal, but I'm really fatigued on the sheen of Delta-Sigma. I think that the Clears, which I absolutely adore and are the best headphones I've heard to date, have really unveiled the flaws of DS dacs and I'd like to move away from that.

So the features I'm looking for are a dac that people would consider highly musical and engaging. Something that really draws you into the music and distracts you from critical listening. I want detail and resolve and all those wonderful things that I know the Clear does so well, but I also want to capture something that can help really transform my digital collection (which I've built mightily over the past several years) into the intoxicating presentation that I get from my turntable and vinyl collection. I'm also looking for something with really great separation and a sense of holography as well.

So I've never heard an actual R2R dac and the only Chord product I've heard is the Mojo which I owned very briefly, but replaced with an iFi Micro BL because, while I absolutely loved the presentation of the Mojo, the amp was sacrificing a LOT of bass in my Clears and it was bugging me.

My research has led me to narrow down current options to
- Holo Audio Spring
- Chord Qutest / Hugo 2

With the Holo dac a lot of the descriptions definitely make me think I'd love it, but I also worry about how it not being as equally engaging through lots of genre's which I do listen to (more on my listening preferences soon). The Chord seems it would fix that issue, but then I worry about it not being *as* musical or romantic as R2R dacs. At least, I've read that the Qutest, while wonderful, is still somewhat neutral in presentation.

So what else should I be looking at, or am i already on the right track? I do know that my amp plays somewhat of a role here as well which is why I'm also looking at upgrading my 600i to a tube amp. My listening preferences honestly run the gamut. I love listening to jazz, R&B, pop, rock, electronic, soundtracks, etc. I love good bass and I love good space. I'd love something that can deliver a super engaging presentation of jazz as much as something from Queen.

I should also state that I will be attending Axpona next month so I'm hoping that will give me a chance to do some quick auditions of a lot of things.

Thanks for any help you can offer!

EDIT:
So I've increased my list now to include a couple more dacs that I'm interested in. Would love more suggestions and experiences with any of these. The PS Audio Directstream Jr especially seems to hit a lot of boxes for me.

1. Holo Audio Spring
2. Schiit Yggdrasil
3. PS Audio Directstream Jr
4. Chord Qutest / Hugo 2
5. Metrum Onyx
6. Denefrips maybe? Depends on what I can get used I suppose.
 
Last edited:
     Share This Post       
post-14832366
Post #2 of 29

buke9

Headphoneus Supremus
Help and Recommendation Contributor
Joined
Feb 21, 2015
Messages
8,743
Reaction score
1,597
Location
Kentucky
Joined
Feb 21, 2015
Location
Kentucky
Posts
8,743
Likes
1,597
I would suggest a Schiit Yggdrasil is another to look at .
 
     Share This Post       
post-14832385
Post #3 of 29

robert766

100+ Head-Fier
Joined
Nov 26, 2017
Messages
156
Reaction score
114
Location
The Hague (the Netherlands)
Joined
Nov 26, 2017
Location
The Hague (the Netherlands)
Posts
156
Likes
114
Metrum Onyx!

Also even though it's DS you could look at the Convert-2. It's getting rave reviews and there are plenty of impressions to be found.
 
     Share This Post       
  • Like
Reactions: lukeslens
post-14832438
Post #4 of 29

lukeslens

Head-Fier
Joined
Dec 11, 2018
Messages
95
Reaction score
40
Location
Champaign, Illinois
Joined
Dec 11, 2018
Location
Champaign, Illinois
Posts
95
Likes
40
I would suggest a Schiit Yggdrasil is another to look at .
Ya, I've been ping-ponging back and forth from other dacs to the yiggy throughout my search. It seems like every R2R dac is essentially compared to it in one way or another and so I keep coming back to it trying to determine if it's for me or not. But then I'll read something about it being a very neutral presentation or having relay clicks or something else. And so often it feels like either it or the Gungnir Multibit are the gateway drugs to other things so I just can't decide if I should put it on the list or not. The issue is that all of the impressions I've read about it seem to be as a comparison to something else, so not sure I've really seen many reviews for it itself.

Metrum Onyx!
Ah yes, it's on the list as well. I forgot about it. Though I haven't seen much of anybody preferring it *over* the Holo Spring. It seems to always come up as an alternative, but I haven't found a lot of detailed sound reviews either. I'll look into the Convert-2, though I am hoping to really get a taste outside of the DS world.
 
     Share This Post       
post-14832586
Post #5 of 29

buke9

Headphoneus Supremus
Help and Recommendation Contributor
Joined
Feb 21, 2015
Messages
8,743
Reaction score
1,597
Location
Kentucky
Joined
Feb 21, 2015
Location
Kentucky
Posts
8,743
Likes
1,597
Ya, I've been ping-ponging back and forth from other dacs to the yiggy throughout my search. It seems like every R2R dac is essentially compared to it in one way or another and so I keep coming back to it trying to determine if it's for me or not. But then I'll read something about it being a very neutral presentation or having relay clicks or something else. And so often it feels like either it or the Gungnir Multibit are the gateway drugs to other things so I just can't decide if I should put it on the list or not. The issue is that all of the impressions I've read about it seem to be as a comparison to something else, so not sure I've really seen many reviews for it itself.
The clicks are from a safety relay and only happens when you switch inputs and I think bitrate. It doesn’t annoy me at all I just love the dac.
 
     Share This Post       
post-14832635
Post #6 of 29

lukeslens

Head-Fier
Joined
Dec 11, 2018
Messages
95
Reaction score
40
Location
Champaign, Illinois
Joined
Dec 11, 2018
Location
Champaign, Illinois
Posts
95
Likes
40
The clicks are from a safety relay and only happens when you switch inputs and I think bitrate. It doesn’t annoy me at all I just love the dac.
Would you describe it similarly to what I described above? How long have you had it? I do have a lot of DSD files in my collection, though I'm not against converting them to PCM in roon. I currently do that with my RME ADI-2 to take advantage of the DSP features.
 
     Share This Post       
post-14832666
Post #7 of 29

buke9

Headphoneus Supremus
Help and Recommendation Contributor
Joined
Feb 21, 2015
Messages
8,743
Reaction score
1,597
Location
Kentucky
Joined
Feb 21, 2015
Location
Kentucky
Posts
8,743
Likes
1,597
I’ve had it going on 3 years now. Getting ready to send it in for the Analog 2 and usb 5 upgrade. Do you mean by being neutral ? I think it would be hard for me to really judge that as nothing else I have is what you would call neutral either. I’ll be at Axpona on Saturday as well and shows like that are hard to really judge things as a lot of times they are in pretty noisy rooms.
 
     Share This Post       
post-14832725
Post #8 of 29

lukeslens

Head-Fier
Joined
Dec 11, 2018
Messages
95
Reaction score
40
Location
Champaign, Illinois
Joined
Dec 11, 2018
Location
Champaign, Illinois
Posts
95
Likes
40
I’ve had it going on 3 years now. Getting ready to send it in for the Analog 2 and usb 5 upgrade. Do you mean by being neutral ?
Neutral being described as somewhat dry, no coloration or hint of coloration. In reading @Torq's review of the Holo Spring he compares it a lot to the Yiggy and frequently describes the Yiggy's sound as a more neutral presentation, while the Holo has more of a sweetness to its sound. Granted, part of my problem is that never hearing any R-2R dacs and the way they present sound I'm not entirely sure if I understand the quality of neutral on something like the Yiggy versus something like the RME (which I would also describe as dry).

I think I should put it on my list though as it seems as though it's just an all-around phenomenal dac, and I am intrigued by some reports that it is one of those rare devices that manages to give a new lease on even bad recordings. Is that something you'd corroborate or not. My only other concern about the Yiggy is knowing I would most likely need to purchase a pre-amp with a remote for the home setup I'd put it in.

I am worried about what you mentioned regarding Axpona. I'll only be there on Sunday unfortunately, but it seems to be my only chance to really try out a lot of products that I'd never get to otherwise in Chicago, even with its broad base of dealers.
 
     Share This Post       
post-14832762
Post #9 of 29

Zhanming057

500+ Head-Fier
Joined
Oct 31, 2016
Messages
874
Reaction score
1,599
Location
Boston, MA
Joined
Oct 31, 2016
Location
Boston, MA
Posts
874
Likes
1,599
really fatigued on the sheen of Delta-Sigma
Try a Nagra Classic DAC somedays. It will quickly disabuse you of that notion :)

Not all DS DAC's, even in the $1,000-$2,000 range, have that problem. The ADI2 is a professional machine, and puts resolution before musicality. That's on RME and not the topology.

To the contrary, I am not a massive fan of cheap-ish R2R's. Without proper materials and design, R2R's typically under-resolve and while nothing is really resolution limited once you pass the $5-6k mark, at $1,500 I've yet to have heard an R2R DAC with resolution that sounds objectively good to my ears.

Anyways, I agree with the suggestion of trying out the Yggy. Two other options are the Benchmark DAC3 (professional sounding, but to a much higher level than the ADI2) and the PS Audio Directstream Jr. (somewhat more organic). Or, if you really want to experience R2R at a level which I'd describe as "done right", there is an MSB Analog DAC on audio mart for $4,400, and you could probably talk the guy down a bit...
 
     Share This Post       
  • Like
Reactions: lukeslens
post-14832778
Post #10 of 29

lukeslens

Head-Fier
Joined
Dec 11, 2018
Messages
95
Reaction score
40
Location
Champaign, Illinois
Joined
Dec 11, 2018
Location
Champaign, Illinois
Posts
95
Likes
40
Thanks for the recommendations. I'm definitely doing a fair amount of new research on the Yggy right now, so we'll see how that goes. I do agree with your take on the RME. Admittedly, part of me wants to just experience something "different" and see if it draws me into a new dimension of my listening. So that's a big part of my step away from DS Dacs, but I don't mean to paint them all with the same brush, as I know from experience how differently they can sound based on implementation.

I was not actually aware of the DirectStream Jr. I know of the DirectStream and it did seem like something more akin to what I'm looking for in sound signature based on the few things I've read, but its cost was obviously way out of my range, so will definitely look into the Jr if it offers similar sonics. I'll look into the MSB as well, as I'm aware of the reputation of MSB dacs enough to know its worth a look.
 
     Share This Post       
post-14832805
Post #11 of 29

Zhanming057

500+ Head-Fier
Joined
Oct 31, 2016
Messages
874
Reaction score
1,599
Location
Boston, MA
Joined
Oct 31, 2016
Location
Boston, MA
Posts
874
Likes
1,599
Thanks for the recommendations. I'm definitely doing a fair amount of new research on the Yggy right now, so we'll see how that goes. I do agree with your take on the RME. Admittedly, part of me wants to just experience something "different" and see if it draws me into a new dimension of my listening. So that's a big part of my step away from DS Dacs, but I don't mean to paint them all with the same brush, as I know from experience how differently they can sound based on implementation.

I was not actually aware of the DirectStream Jr. I know of the DirectStream and it did seem like something more akin to what I'm looking for in sound signature based on the few things I've read, but its cost was obviously way out of my range, so will definitely look into the Jr if it offers similar sonics. I'll look into the MSB as well, as I'm aware of the reputation of MSB dacs enough to know its worth a look.
People (cough, Schiit) like to talk about Delta-Sigma as if they're inherently of a lower caste. That is very certainly not true. To the contrary, DS designs can have any number of different signatures, but it's really hard to take the "R2R-ness" out of an R2R DAC.

The Directstream Jr. is pretty close to the Directstream. There's a couple used ones on usaudiomart right now - definitely worth a closer look if you can get one below the $2,500 mark.

One other nomination is the Berkeley Alpha DAC series 2. Used ones are around $3k. Great dynamics and very composed.
 
     Share This Post       
  • Like
Reactions: lukeslens
post-14832817
Post #12 of 29

buke9

Headphoneus Supremus
Help and Recommendation Contributor
Joined
Feb 21, 2015
Messages
8,743
Reaction score
1,597
Location
Kentucky
Joined
Feb 21, 2015
Location
Kentucky
Posts
8,743
Likes
1,597
Neutral being described as somewhat dry, no coloration or hint of coloration. In reading @Torq's review of the Holo Spring he compares it a lot to the Yiggy and frequently describes the Yiggy's sound as a more neutral presentation, while the Holo has more of a sweetness to its sound. Granted, part of my problem is that never hearing any R-2R dacs and the way they present sound I'm not entirely sure if I understand the quality of neutral on something like the Yiggy versus something like the RME (which I would also describe as dry).

I think I should put it on my list though as it seems as though it's just an all-around phenomenal dac, and I am intrigued by some reports that it is one of those rare devices that manages to give a new lease on even bad recordings. Is that something you'd corroborate or not. My only other concern about the Yiggy is knowing I would most likely need to purchase a pre-amp with a remote for the home setup I'd put it in.

I am worried about what you mentioned regarding Axpona. I'll only be there on Sunday unfortunately, but it seems to be my only chance to really try out a lot of products that I'd never get to otherwise in Chicago, even with its broad base of dealers.
I understand what neutral is meant to be I was just saying my gear is not neutral as I run a Amps and Sound Kenzie,Liquid Carbon and Audio GD Master 9 along with Ether-C’s,HD-800 and Abyss so tough to tell where the sweetness comes from for me.
It is real tough to judge equipment at shows as most of the time it tends to be quite noisy but some have smaller rooms that aren’t too bad and this will be my first Axpona so not sure how it is set up. Too bad you aren’t going on Saturday as a vendor is having a Head-Fi reception with free pizza and you could meet other Head-Fi’ers.
 
     Share This Post       
  • Like
Reactions: lukeslens
post-14832827
Post #13 of 29

lukeslens

Head-Fier
Joined
Dec 11, 2018
Messages
95
Reaction score
40
Location
Champaign, Illinois
Joined
Dec 11, 2018
Location
Champaign, Illinois
Posts
95
Likes
40
The Directstream Jr. is pretty close to the Directstream. There's a couple used ones on usaudiomart right now - definitely worth a closer look if you can get one below the $2,500 mark.
It just made my shortlist for sure. After a couple quick reviews it definitely seems like something that I want to look at seriously.

Too bad you aren’t going on Saturday as a vendor is having a Head-Fi reception with free pizza and you could meet other Head-Fi’ers.
Ya, it's killing me that I can't spend more time there. But I got lucky that I could even come a day. I'm a filmmaker and will be on set that week, so I'm thrilled that I can make it at all, but I really wanted to be there all three days. Fortunately, there's another head-fi meet in Chicago next week that I plan to be at. So I'll get to meet a few people there as well.
 
     Share This Post       
post-14832848
Post #14 of 29

buke9

Headphoneus Supremus
Help and Recommendation Contributor
Joined
Feb 21, 2015
Messages
8,743
Reaction score
1,597
Location
Kentucky
Joined
Feb 21, 2015
Location
Kentucky
Posts
8,743
Likes
1,597
Ya, it's killing me that I can't spend more time there. But I got lucky that I could even come a day. I'm a filmmaker and will be on set that week, so I'm thrilled that I can make it at all, but I really wanted to be there all three days. Fortunately, there's another head-fi meet in Chicago next week that I plan to be at. So I'll get to meet a few people there as well.
Yes you need more time for sure so much to take in. I’ve been to a few meets in Chicago myself but won’t be making that one but have always had a good time there really good people and gear.
 
     Share This Post       
  • Like
Reactions: lukeslens
post-14839174
Post #15 of 29

lukeslens

Head-Fier
Joined
Dec 11, 2018
Messages
95
Reaction score
40
Location
Champaign, Illinois
Joined
Dec 11, 2018
Location
Champaign, Illinois
Posts
95
Likes
40
I'm not entirely sure why but I am gravitating hard towards the Directstream Jr. Is that crazy? I can't find a ton of mentions of it on these forums though. It seems a lot of people have them over on the Roon forums, which makes sense as it's very integrated with Roon, but just wondering if that's money well spent if I can get it used? I love the form factor, I love that it has a pre-amp, a crazy detailed remote control and all that Roon integration. And it seems to be almost all I'm looking for musicality-wise. The only thing making me a little nervous is the reports that the bass isn't as pronounced as it could be. I do love me some bass, so that's freaking me out a little bit, especially when I know reports of the bass on the Holo are great.

Ugh. I wish it was so much easier to audition these things. I hate how much anxiety this crap gives me. *sigh*
 
     Share This Post       

Users Who Are Viewing This Thread (Users: 0, Guests: 1)

Top