2017 Editors’ Choice: DACs $3,000 - $10,000

Equipment report
Digital-to-analog converters
Berkeley Audio Alpha DAC Series 2,
EAR-Yoshino 192 DACute,
PS Audio DirectStream DAC
2017 Editors’ Choice: DACs $3,000 - $10,000

Auralic Vega
The elegant Vega is a tour de force in DAC design, supporting DSD64 and DSD128 bitstreams plus PCM data ranging from 44.1/16 on up to 32/384 resolution levels. Moreover, the Vega automatically upsamples PCM data to 32-bit/1.5Mhz levels, incorporates six user-selectable digital audio filters, provides an ultra-low-jitter “FemtoClock,” includes a precision digital volume control that enables the Vega to serve as a digital preamp, and supplies proprietary balanced output analog modules said to mimic the voicing of Neve’s legendary 8078 recording console. It also sounds superb, offering dead quiet backgrounds, remarkable transparency and resolution, highly expressive dynamics, and natural warmth.

Berkeley Audio Design Alpha DAC Series 2
The original Alpha DAC was not only one of the best-sounding digital-to-analog converters, it also set a price-to-performance benchmark. Berkeley has upped the ante with the identically priced Series 2. In addition to world-class decoding of CD sources, the Alpha DAC Series 2 can handle any sampling rate to 192kHz and word lengths to 24 bit. The robust analog output stage and variable output allow the Alpha DAC to drive a power amplifier directly, and you will want to hear it without a preamp in the signal path, because the Alpha DAC is capable of exceptional resolution, timbral purity, and dynamics. If you want to drive the Alpha DAC with USB, you’ll need Berkeley outstanding Alpha USB converter. A reference product at a reasonable price.

EAR-Yoshino 192 DACute
Tim de Paravicini’s DACute (really a DAC-Pre) represents a bold attempt to equate digital performance to good analog practice. High-frequency noise generated by the DAC chipset is filtered using an analog filter, the same sort of filter Tim has always used on analog tape recorders for bias and ultrasonic noise filtering. The Cirrus SPDIF receiver accepts up to 24/192 digital data from USB, coaxial SPDIF, and TosLink SPDIF inputs. The internal line preamp stage uses a 6922/ECC88 twin triode per channel, while the output stage is transformer coupled. The end result is a DAC that sounds more analog than most DACs and is responsible for restoring DO’s faith in digital audio.

PS Audio DirectStream
$5999 ($6899 with Bridge II)
Sometimes it’s good to start over from scratch when designing a new component. That’s what designer Ted Smith did—he started from the premise that DSD recordings sound good and built a DAC around that premise. PS Audio’s Paul McGowan heard a prototype, loved it, and agreed to build it. VF thought it was easily the best digital sound he’d heard, but the DAC needs lots—probably 500 hours—of break-in.