2019 High-End Audio Buyer's Guide: DACs $1,000 - $5,000

Equipment report
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Digital-to-analog converters
2019 High-End Audio Buyer's Guide: DACs $1,000 - $5,000

Chord Qutest
$1895 
The Chord Qutest integrates the entire frequency spectrum in a holistic, organic way that just sounds right—not too soft or hard, detailed without being harsh, and relaxed without being flaccid. While reviewer Steven Stone would not go so far as to call the Qutest “analog-like,” since that is not necessarily always a positive attribute, he would say the Qutest recreates digital music with a non-digital character that emphasizes its musicality without sacrificing detail or dynamics. And while he did not compare the Qutest with its higher-priced brethren, he did hear that it possesses a certain sonic “rightness” that he could live with happily for a long time. The Qutest is both neutral and incisive, just like its “best” filter says it will be. If you have a basic but flagship-level DAC that is more than ten years old, and have been thinking about modernizing, Steven would strongly recommend trying the Qutest before you go ahead and replace your DAC with something with an additional zero at the end of its price tag.


Wyred 4 Sound DAC-2v2 
$2299 ($1500 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 Steven Stone hasn’t heard every available DAC in its price range, he has yet to hear any USB DAC under $2500 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.


Schiit Audio Yggdrasil 
$2399
Designed by industry legend Mike Moffat, the Yggy DAC sounds very much like the famous Theta Digital DACs that Moffat designed in the 1980s and 1990s—but better. Like the Theta DACs of yore, the Yggy has a bold, assertive, vibrant, even vivid presentation. Because of this startling clarity, individual musical lines within complex arrangements are spatially and timbrally distinct. This has the effect of revealing each musical part with greater precision, as well as the intent of each musician—and with that comes a fuller, richer, and more complex presentation of the composition and arrangement. Transient attacks, from a hard-hit snare drum to the most delicate tap on a cymbal, are startlingly fast, defined, and vivid. If you’re looking for a DAC that does quad-rate DSD, decodes MQA, offers a volume control, and includes a headphone amp, look elsewhere. But if the very best reproduction of PCM sources is your goal, the Yggdrasil is the ticket. It’s a spectacular performer on an absolute level, and an out-of-this world bargain.


Bryston BDA-3
$3495
The Bryston BDA-3 enhances the functionality of the 2013 Product of the Year Award-winning BDA-2 by adding a second asynchronous USB input and four HDMI inputs. PCM sample rates up to 384kHz are now supported, as are DSD rates up to DSD256. Most significantly, not only can DSD signals be received by the BDA-3’s USB inputs, but also from suitably equipped HDMI sources. The evolutionary development of Bryston’s DACs from the original BDA-1 to the BDA-3 has been an object lesson in digital progress. Bryston’s BDA-3 DAC surpasses the high-value performance standard set by the BDA-2, enables inexpensive HDMI-equipped disc players to function as premium source components, and adds exceptionally engaging DSD playback to its potent mix of virtues.


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