2015 Buyer’s Guide: DACs $1,500 - $5,000

Equipment report
Digital-to-analog converters
Benchmark Media Systems DAC2 HGC,
Berkeley Audio Alpha DAC Series 2,
Bryston BDA-2 ,
Cary Audio Design DAC-100,
Cary Audio Design DAC-100t,
Mytek Stereo192-DSD-DAC,
Wyred4Sound DAC-2
2015 Buyer’s Guide: DACs $1,500 - $5,000

Wyred 4 Sound DAC-2
$1499 ($100 to add DSD, $1000 for SE boards)
The Wyred 4 Sound DAC-2 combines a rich feature set with remarkable performance at a price that makes it hard to beat. Its overall sound has a solidity and weight that are both arresting and involving. While SS hasn’t heard every available DAC in its price range, he has yet to hear any USB DAC under $1500 that outperforms the Wyred 4 Sound. Factor in the basic DAC-2’s 192kHz high-resolution capabilities, small upcharge for DSD support, and the ability to convert to SE anytime you wish via built-in circuit-board upgradability, and you have a DAC that will remain au courant long enough to make it a savvy and satisfying purchase, regardless of how much more you can afford to spend. wyred4sound.com

Mytek Stereo192-DSD DAC
Manufactured in Poland, the Mytek Stereo192-DSD DAC was designed by Michal Jurewics, who is also the founder of Mytek Digital. The Stereo192-DSD DAC comes in three versions. Fortunately for consumers, all three have the same price. The “standard” version is available in two finishes, silver and black. The black chassis 192-DSD DAC has front-panel volume-level LEDs below the LCD panel, while the silver version has none. Input and output options on the black and silver 192s are identical. The “Mastering” 192-DSD DAC has a similar front panel to the black version, but instead of an analog pass-through it substitutes a dedicated DSD input for 128x (5.6MHz) files (currently only accessible via a PC-based computer). If you want or need a DSDcapable DAC with a FireWire interface (which can be attached to any Thunderbolt connection via an adapter), the Mytek is the only game in town, so far. mytekdigital.com

Benchmark DAC2 HGC
The DAC2 HGC employs new high-efficiency lownoise power supplies with each sub-system using its own dedicated low-noise regulation. The UltraLock2 digital clock replaces the older UltraLock clock that was used in the DAC1 for jitter attenuation. Like most current-generation DACs, the DAC2 uses an asynchronous interface, which Benchmark, with a knack for verbal invention, calls its “multi-mode asynchronous USB.” The HGC moniker stands for “hybrid gain control,” which is a “dual domain” attenuation system that combines digital with analog gain controls for an optimal result. By using a 32-bit digital system along with a servo-driven analog potentiometer, Benchmark claims that the HGC design “outperforms traditional analog or digital volume controls, including the two-stage DAC1 HDR system.” The Benchmark DAC2 does make a strong case that the current-generation digital-to-analog interfaces are no longer the weakest link in the reproduction chain, if indeed they were in the past. Also available in an L version without headphone amp, $1795; and a D version with only digital inputs, $1795. benchmarkmedia.com

Bryston BDA-2 DAC
Bryston’s BDA-1 builds on the success of its highly regarded predecessor, the BDA-1. The new unit adds a greatly improved asynchronous USB interface capable of handling sampling rates up to 192kHz, along with a pair of top-of-the-line chips from AKM. The USB input, merely a convenience feature on the BDA-1, is now a state-of-the-art implementation that is fully competitive with other top-class USB DACs. Because of its particular strengths, the BDA-2 will be especially appealing to listeners seeking to maximize enjoyment from USB sources. The overriding impression of music played via the BDA-2’s USB input is one of relaxed ease and unflustered composure. KS found that the crowning achievement of the Bryston BDA-2 can be described in the simplest of terms: It makes the best of every recording that you play through it. A great bargain. bryston.com

Cary Audio DAC-100 and DAC-100t
$2495 and $2995
Available with either a silver or black front panel, the DAC-100 and DAC-100t look virtually identical. The “t” on the second DAC-100 stands for tube. This is what differentiates the DAC-100t’s analog output stage from that of the all-solid-state DAC-100. Except for their output design the two are technological twins. Overall the DAC-100t has more additive colorations, especially in the bass, while the DAC-100 is slightly subtractive in its upper frequency ranges. Which is “better” will depend on the rest of your system. WG encourages readers to listen to both and make their own choice. The fact is you can’t go wrong with either one. caryaudio.com

Auralic Vega
If you are looking to take the plunge into the world of DSD and need a high-quality DAC/preamp capable of handling all your digital sources, look no further than the Auralic Vega digital pre/ DAC. With AES/EBU, two coax, optical, and USB inputs, the Vega is highly versatile. Because it is also capable of acting as a preamp, all you have to do is add an amp and speakers and you’re ready to start rocking. The Vega supports all PCM-based audio up to 384kHz/24-bit and DSD up to DSD128. As good as it gets for the price. auralic.com

Berkeley Audio Design Alpha DAC Series 2
The Golden Ear and Product of the Year Award-winning Alpha DAC is not only one of the best-sounding digital-to-analog converters, it’s also an amazing bargain. In addition to world-class decoding of CD sources, the Alpha DAC can handle any sampling rate to 192kHz and word lengths to 24 bits. Its robust analog output stage and variable output level allow it to drive a power amplifier directly. This feature is significant, because the Alpha DAC is capable of such resolution, timbral purity, and dynamics you’ll want to hear it without the limitations of a preamp in the signal path. When used at its best—fed by true high-res sources from a music server, and driving an amplifier directly—the Alpha DAC delivers stunning resolution of the finest musical detail, throws a spectacularly large and well-defined soundstage, and plays back music with gorgeous tone color and purity. A reference-quality product at a moderate price. berkeleyaudiodesign.com