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Help me choose a new DAC


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Hi everyone, so I am looking for a new dac for my headphone rig, but maybe it would eventually move into a main stereo where I’m currently using my M51. I really like the functionality and sound of the M51, but if I’m getting something new (to me), it needs to be an upgrade from the M51. Volume control is nice but I actually have a decent preamp I’m just not using as I see no advantage vs the NADs volume control. Price should be less than $4k. I am also completely open to used equipment. I don't care if it supports DSD or not.

 

Possibilities:

 

Auralic Vega $3500

 

Ayre Qb-9DSD $3300

 

Marantz NA11-S1 $3500

 

Berkeley Alpha DAC2 - ~$3500 used when you can find it, I already have a pretty decent SPDIF converter to use. A CA member just sold an Alpha USB+BADA2 for $4k, that was a steal and I wish I had jumped on it.

 

Some Chord dac? – I’m not totally convinced this would be an upgrade and its form factor I think would be irritating. I wouldn’t carry something like this around for portable use, too expensive for that.

 

PS Audio PWDII - ~$1800 used, I have heard this one briefly and thought it was excellent, but not totally convinced its a huge upgrade.

 

I really like my ifi micro iDSD, so part of me is curious to see what the $1500 mini iDSD will sound like. But again, I kind of doubt it would be an upgrade from the NAD, maybe more like a lateral move, but who knows it’s not out yet.

 

Anyone with feedback or recommendations I haven’t thought of? Does anyone think that the above really stand out from the others? The Berkeley Alpha2 is the one that is eating at me. I haven't heard it and would be going totally on reputation. I keep hoping that the new RS being released will cause some BADA2s to show up used, but I think the price differential is unlikely to get anyone moving up from the 2 to the RS.

Roon ->UltraRendu + CI Audio 7v LPS-> Kii Control -> Kii Three

Roon->BMC UltraDAC->Mr Speakers Aeon Flow Open

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Eastern Electric just came out with 2 new DACs about a week ago (the Junior - $850 and the Supreme - $1,350).

 

Both are based on the ESS9018 DAC chip.

 

I don't think there are any reviews out there yet...

 

I bought one of each and can't stop listening to them. I use the Supreme in my main system and the Junior with my headphone gear.

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Eastern Electric just came out with 2 new DACs about a week ago (the Junior - $850 and the Supreme - $1,350).

 

Both are based on the ESS9018 DAC chip.

 

I don't think there are any reviews out there yet...

 

I bought one of each and can't stop listening to them. I use the Supreme in my main system and the Junior with my headphone gear.

Thank you for pointing that out. I currently still own the Eastern Electric MiniMax DAC Plus that I bought when there were also no reviews out there about it yet. Based on my personal experience with my MiniMax DAC Plus, I feel that the MiniMax Supreme DAC definitely stands an excellent chance of being able to sonically compete with DACs that are costing over two and a half times as much. This is because that is exactly how I also felt, almost three years ago, about the MiniMax DAC Plus. Even today, I am still very happy with the way it sounds.

 

Happy listening! :)

If you had the memory of a goldfish, maybe it would work.
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Thanks for the feeback. The Marantz is definitely on the list. I have heard the EE but never have had the chance to hear them. Will check them out. Thanks!

Roon ->UltraRendu + CI Audio 7v LPS-> Kii Control -> Kii Three

Roon->BMC UltraDAC->Mr Speakers Aeon Flow Open

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I've had the M51, PWDII, Auralic Vega, and Marantz units in my system. I think you are right, the PWDII would not be a huge upgrade. Depending on your taste, the Vega might be. I found it to be a bit forward and bright in my system, and as good as it is, I found it fatiguing. It really is something to hear, though. The Marantz is closer in sound to the M51 and PWDII than it is to the hyperreal microscopically detailed Vega. I personally didn't find the Marantz to be a huge improvement over the M51. Choosing between the Marantz and the Luxman DA-06 has been difficult. They have different strengths. I prefer the slightly warmer and fuller mid-range, especially for vocals, of the Lux. Transient attack and PRAT, especially with stringed instruments, are better with the Marantz. I also found that the iFi iPurifier gave the Marantz an overall nice subtle improvement that makes it hard to give up.

 

These remarks, of course, might better represent my idiosyncrasies as a listener and my particular system/spatial setup than they do the dacs themselves generally.

 

If I were in the market right now, I'd want to check out the Direct Stream, but would want an option to return. I'd also want to pay significantly less than $6k, but you can't have both the option to return and the lower price.

 

Good luck.

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Eastern Electric just came out with 2 new DACs about a week ago (the Junior - $850 and the Supreme - $1,350).

 

Both are based on the ESS9018 DAC chip.

 

I don't think there are any reviews out there yet...

 

I bought one of each and can't stop listening to them. I use the Supreme in my main system and the Junior with my headphone gear.

 

Wooo ... I'm very excited on this news! I love my Minimax DAC Plus, it's super-smooth yet very resolving.

 

Will order the Supreme tomorrow, unless I discover that you can't roll the op-amps...

Front End: Neet Airstream

Digital Processing: Chord Hugo M-Scaler

DAC: Chord Dave

Amplification: Cyrus Mono x300 Signatures

Speakers: Kudos Titan T88

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Wooo ... I'm very excited on this news! I love my Minimax DAC Plus, it's super-smooth yet very resolving.

 

Will order the Supreme tomorrow, unless I discover that you can't roll the op-amps...

 

Love my Minimax Plus too...

 

I was told that the Supreme's op-amps could be swapped out.

 

I rolled Dexa Discretes in my older EE dacs (original Minimax and Minimax Plus), but truthfully haven't even had the urge (yet?) to swap op-amps in the newer dacs because I love the way they sound.

 

I did throw a nice Mullard ECC82 (k61) in right away, although I know some people liked the older EE dacs in solid state mode (with the tube pulled). I always liked the tube output, but that's system dependent I'm sure...

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I've had the M51, PWDII, Auralic Vega, and Marantz units in my system. I think you are right, the PWDII would not be a huge upgrade. Depending on your taste, the Vega might be. I found it to be a bit forward and bright in my system, and as good as it is, I found it fatiguing. It really is something to hear, though. The Marantz is closer in sound to the M51 and PWDII than it is to the hyperreal microscopically detailed Vega. I personally didn't find the Marantz to be a huge improvement over the M51. Choosing between the Marantz and the Luxman DA-06 has been difficult. They have different strengths. I prefer the slightly warmer and fuller mid-range, especially for vocals, of the Lux. Transient attack and PRAT, especially with stringed instruments, are better with the Marantz. I also found that the iFi iPurifier gave the Marantz an overall nice subtle improvement that makes it hard to give up.

 

These remarks, of course, might better represent my idiosyncrasies as a listener and my particular system/spatial setup than they do the dacs themselves generally.

 

If I were in the market right now, I'd want to check out the Direct Stream, but would want an option to return. I'd also want to pay significantly less than $6k, but you can't have both the option to return and the lower price.

 

Good luck.

 

Thanks for those impressions. I am very curious about the Vega everyone seems love it. At the very least it seems to have its own sound which the reviewers love. But I may be with you in that I tend to prefer dacs that are more effortless and smooth in their presentation rather than sounding obviously ultra-detailed. I like dacs that are detailed but still natural sounding, maybe this fits the Vega or maybe not?

 

The DirectStream seems high on everyone's list. It is definitely out of my range new and at the edge of my range used. I would certainly need an audition and then would have to be very sold on it. This one hasn't been on my radar but maybe it should be.

 

The Luxman wasn't on my list purely because it is too expensive and rarely appears used. If I were looking in the >$4k range I would look very hard at both it and the AMR-DP777, and maybe a new BADA2. From what I understand the BADA2 is likely more in the super detailed camp rather than the smooth and effortless, but it was one of Chris's favorites which makes it rank very highly to me. His statement that his default recommendation in this price range is the Ayre Qb-9DSD also means a lot to me. (I also generally love anything Ayre I have heard, especially their Ax-5 integrated amp.)

 

You definitely have had a number of DACs in and out of the system. If you had tried the Ayre and Berkeley then you would have nailed all of them I listed! From the sounds of things the M51 still stands up pretty well with this group. Thanks!

Roon ->UltraRendu + CI Audio 7v LPS-> Kii Control -> Kii Three

Roon->BMC UltraDAC->Mr Speakers Aeon Flow Open

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Love my Minimax Plus too...

 

I was told that the Supreme's op-amps could be swapped out.

 

I rolled Dexa Discretes in my older EE dacs (original Minimax and Minimax Plus), but truthfully haven't even had the urge (yet?) to swap op-amps in the newer dacs because I love the way they sound.

 

I did throw a nice Mullard ECC82 (k61) in right away, although I know some people liked the older EE dacs in solid state mode (with the tube pulled). I always liked the tube output, but that's system dependent I'm sure...

I am using my Plus in solid state mode with the tube pulled. Pulling the tube has made such a remarkable difference that I haven't bothered trying the Dexa discrete op-amps, although I had initially planned to try them with a rated Psvane 12AU7-T. This is not to knock on tube sound. I don't know why the Plus reacts to pulling the tube the way it does. Quite surprisingly, it just does. If you don't mind my asking, have you tried the Plus with the tube pulled and, if yes, could you please share a few words on how it compares to the Supreme?

If you had the memory of a goldfish, maybe it would work.
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PS Audio PWDII - ~$1800 used, I have heard this one briefly and thought it was excellent, but not totally convinced its a huge upgrade.

 

Cant help you with the other stuff, but I can say I recently was at a comparison between my Chord Qute DAC with upgraded power supply against a PS Audio PWD. The PS Audio ate it alive - not that its particularly surprising considering the price difference. The Chord isn't easy to beat - so the PS Audio is the genuine article. Also I believe you can get an upgrade kit to take it to Direct Stream level. The guy whose PS I heard got his upgraded, and is burning it in right now. Sounds very good from the start - but when its burnt in will be comparing it to really high end DAC's out our way in a GTG.

 

Don't know if it will win that - but I am sure it will be up there.

 

Thanks

Bill

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BMC PureDac...$1900 new. Great HP amp and balanced with very good VC. SS dac.

 

A used Lampi L4 with DSD...should be less than $4K and will sound superb.

Similar for AMR-DP777 and Aesthetix...AMR does not do DSD, but has 2 chipets for NOS and high-rez PCM. The recent upgrade to the circuit takes it up a notch.

 

As you can see, I like the tube Dacs.

 

Yes, the BADA-2 by all accounts is terrific too. No DSD though.

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I actually had the PureDAC and I liked it a lot. I posted a comparison with the NAD M51 on the PureDAC headfi thread a few weeks ago. The PureDAC may be a little more clinical but it was very competitive. I did like the little M51 better. The headphone output does make that one an amazing value though. Apparently he is releasing an higher spec version of hte same dac that will be called the UltraDAC and will fall in the $3300 range. that one is on my radar, it should make an appearance and RMAF at the Moon-Audio table.

 

BMC PureDac...$1900 new. Great HP amp and balanced with very good VC. SS dac.

 

A used Lampi L4 with DSD...should be less than $4K and will sound superb.

Similar for AMR-DP777 and Aesthetix...AMR does not do DSD, but has 2 chipets for NOS and high-rez PCM. The recent upgrade to the circuit takes it up a notch.

 

As you can see, I like the tube Dacs.

 

Yes, the BADA-2 by all accounts is terrific too. No DSD though.

Roon ->UltraRendu + CI Audio 7v LPS-> Kii Control -> Kii Three

Roon->BMC UltraDAC->Mr Speakers Aeon Flow Open

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Cant help you with the other stuff, but I can say I recently was at a comparison between my Chord Qute DAC with upgraded power supply against a PS Audio PWD. The PS Audio ate it alive - not that its particularly surprising considering the price difference. The Chord isn't easy to beat - so the PS Audio is the genuine article. Also I believe you can get an upgrade kit to take it to Direct Stream level. The guy whose PS I heard got his upgraded, and is burning it in right now. Sounds very good from the start - but when its burnt in will be comparing it to really high end DAC's out our way in a GTG.

 

Don't know if it will win that - but I am sure it will be up there.

 

Thanks

Bill

 

Thank you very much for your thoughts. The PS Audio PWDII is very appealing due to its easy availability second hand, at least 4 are on Agon right now. I know there has been some handwringing over decent but not excellent measurements from the DirectStream. But it does seem everyone agrees it is a definitive upgrade. I would probably have to wait a bit on the DirectStream and let prices come down a bit before I would be willing to pull the trigger on one. The option to later upgrade an existing PWDII is appealing though...

 

Thanks again and let me know how the DirectStream does in your shootout

Roon ->UltraRendu + CI Audio 7v LPS-> Kii Control -> Kii Three

Roon->BMC UltraDAC->Mr Speakers Aeon Flow Open

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Kelly, if you are a DSD lover, then the PSA Dacs are not for you.

 

Personally, I would go for the BADA2 for PCM and a Sabre Dac for half decent DSD.

Why ignore the Tube Dacs though?

Definitely not ignoring the tube amps. The AMR is waaay up my list given how impressed I am with my iFi devices. I have been scanning audiogon for a while now and hadn't seen one. There have been some rumors of reliability issues which scares me a little with a used device.

Roon ->UltraRendu + CI Audio 7v LPS-> Kii Control -> Kii Three

Roon->BMC UltraDAC->Mr Speakers Aeon Flow Open

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If you don't mind my asking, have you tried the Plus with the tube pulled and, if yes, could you please share a few words on how it compares to the Supreme?

 

I have tried the Plus with the tube pulled. I think it sounds great, with a little more resolution than what I seem to get with a tube. But I like the extra "body" I get with a good tube, which is a preference I'm sure is system dependent. (My system includes Magnepan speakers and silver interconnect and speaker cables). I could easily live with the sound in either tube or SS mode, though.

 

I have only listened to the Supreme in tube mode so far. I'll listen a bit in SS mode and will then pull the tube and follow up with some (subjective) thoughts on what it sounds like. But I can tell you that in tube mode the Supreme seems (to me) to be in a different league altogether than the Plus. More resolving, better tone and body, less "digital" sounding, better soundstage, etc... And I loved (and still do love) my Plus.

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  • 2 months later...
I have tried the Plus with the tube pulled. I think it sounds great, with a little more resolution than what I seem to get with a tube. But I like the extra "body" I get with a good tube, which is a preference I'm sure is system dependent. (My system includes Magnepan speakers and silver interconnect and speaker cables). I could easily live with the sound in either tube or SS mode, though.

 

I have only listened to the Supreme in tube mode so far. I'll listen a bit in SS mode and will then pull the tube and follow up with some (subjective) thoughts on what it sounds like. But I can tell you that in tube mode the Supreme seems (to me) to be in a different league altogether than the Plus. More resolving, better tone and body, less "digital" sounding, better soundstage, etc... And I loved (and still do love) my Plus.

 

I run the EE DAC Plus with tube removed and DEXA's all around. I would love to hear some comparisons of similarly configured DAC plus with Supreme, hopefully with DEXA's?

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I run the EE DAC Plus with tube removed and DEXA's all around. I would love to hear some comparisons of similarly configured DAC plus with Supreme, hopefully with DEXA's?

 

+1 , likewise I have the Dac+ with Dexa's (and tube pulled) and am thinking in what ways the Supreme might better this as what I have already sounds fabulous.

 

As an aside, does anyone know what major changes - if any - have been made to the internal topology of the DAC?

Front End: Neet Airstream

Digital Processing: Chord Hugo M-Scaler

DAC: Chord Dave

Amplification: Cyrus Mono x300 Signatures

Speakers: Kudos Titan T88

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I've had an Ayre QB 9 DSD in my system for a few months. Very nice sound. Not edgy or uncomfortable at all. I don't think it's fully broken in at least according to the manufacturer's suggestions. It's American made which for me is a plus in terms of service and upgrades. I would suggest you give it a listen if you can.

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