Up to 84% in savings when you subscribe to The Absolute Sound
Logo Close Icon

Begin typing your search above and press return to search. Press Esc to cancel.

Best DACs: $10,000 & Up

Berkeley Audio Design Alpha DAC Series 3

Berkeley Audio Design Alpha DAC Series 3

$10,995

Berkeley’s Alpha DAC Series 3 attempts to bring much of the performance of the company’s vaunted Reference DAC 3 to a product that is less than half the Reference’s price. The Alpha DAC has superb resolution of low-level detail, three-dimensional soundstaging (with the ability to convey very fine timbral and spatial information at the back of the hall), dense tone color, and outstanding clarity. The Alpha 3 doesn’t have quite the world-class performance of the Berkeley Reference Series 3 DAC, but it comes closer than you’d expect for less than half the price. The Alpha DAC Series 3 is the DAC to beat at anywhere near this price if you don’t’ need DSD decoding or network connectivity. RH, 320

Read the full review: Berkeley Audio Design Alpha DAC Series 3 Digital-to-Analog Converter
dCS Bartók

dCS Bartók

$17,950 ($19,950 w/headphone amp)

The replacement for the vaunted Debussy DAC, Bartók adds streaming network capability to dCS’s entry-level DAC, plus full MQA decoding and rendering, and a vastly improved interface and app. Bartók does the unthinkable; it accomplishes for digital playback what was once the exclusive province of analog playback. It establishes the same visceral connection with the listener, as if he were witnessing a recording from inside the microphone capsule with no losses from opening transient to the last gasp of decay. But outweighing any single benchmark, Bartók offers a profusion of harmonic body and tactility that calls to mind the finest in vinyl playback. You may never miss the sound of LPs again. NG, 300

Brinkmann Nyquist Mk II

Brinkmann Nyquist Mk II

$18,990

Brinkmann may be best known for its 35-year track record of making exceptional turntables, but its Nyquist DAC immediately establishes the company as a major contributor to first-rank digital playback. The Nyquist is brimming with advanced features, including MQA decoding, high-speed DSD support, Roon-ready operation, UPnP connectivity, and upgradeable digital circuitry. Yet for all its cutting-edge digital prowess, the Nyquist’s output stage is built around that most ancient and venerable of audio technologies, the vacuum tube. This marriage produces a sound that is very “non-digital,” embodying all the qualities that analog is famous for—dimensionality, treble smoothness, bloom, timbral purity—but coupled with digital’s strengths of image solidity, pitch stability, and bass impact. The combination of analog-like warmth, bloom, and ease along with the state of the art in digital connectivity makes the Nyquist an extremely compelling package. The newly updated digital section of the Mk.II improves performance and verifies Brinkmann’s claims of easy field-upgradability. RH, 278; JHb, 301

Read the full review: Brinkmann Nyquist Mk II DAC, Marconi Mk II Linestage, Edison Mk II Phonostage
Berkeley Audio Design Alpha DAC Reference Series 3

Berkeley Audio Design Alpha DAC Reference Series 3

$28,000

Just when RH thought the Alpha DAC Reference couldn’t get any better, software updates and a new hardware board vaulted the Series 3 into a new league of excellence. The Series 3 embodies all the qualities that have made this DAC a top contender—exquisite resolution of the finest timbral and spatial detail; tremendous dimensionality clarity, and openness without etch or brightness; liquidity; precise rendering of music’s dynamic structure; and an overall sense of hearing back through the playback chain to the microphone feed. The Series 3 improves on all these qualities and presents greater bass extension and rhythmic flow. The Series 3 renders more information on standard-res files than RH through possible, and MQA decoding takes the performance to the next level. The Series 3 lacks a USB input (you’ll need Berkeley’s $2275 Alpha USB) and has no networking capabilities or DSD decoding. RH, 279; Series 3, 298

Read the full review: Berkeley Audio Design Alpha DAC Reference Series 3 Digital-to-Analog Converter
Ideon Audio Absolute DAC

Ideon Audio Absolute DAC

$47,000

The designers at Greece’s Ideon Audio have imbued their top-of-the-line Absolute Epsilon DAC with a host of proprietary technologies. Rather than use off-the-shelf parts, Ideon has created its own circuits or modified standard parts. Couple this with an elaborate power supply and superb build-quality, and you have a top-shelf DAC. When auditioned with Ideon’s Absolute Stream music server ($19,900) and the Absolute Time master clock ($9600), the system had stunningly lifelike reproduction of music’s dynamics. The sense of immediacy and presence—the impression of nothing between you and the music—was equally impressive. RH, 327

MSB Technology Reference DAC

MSB Technology Reference DAC

$49,500, DAC base price includes Femto 33 clock & preamp output module

JV is an analog man and always will be. But when it comes to ones and zeroes, things have taken a rather dramatic turn for the better chez Valin since the arrival of the highly modular MSB Reference DAC. On physical media such as CD or SACD and on streaming sources, the Reference DAC is one of the two most realistic-sounding digital source components JV has heard in his home (the other being the Soulution 760). On select cuts from select discs (or on streamed material, particularly hi-res MQA) the MSB has the colorless neutrality, speed, detail, presence, dynamic range, and delicacy that make voices and instruments sound real enough to raise goosebumps. This is the ear-opener JV has been waiting for in a digital source, and TAS’ well-deserving 2018 Overall Product of the Year. JV, 290

Soulution 760

Soulution 760

$72,000

Coming from a company better known for its superb solid-state amps and preamps than for its digital source components, the Soulution 760 DAC was, for JV, the surprise of the 2020 audio season. Indeed, it turned out to be such a game-changer that—if you listen only or primarily to ones and zeroes—he would be hard put to recommend anything else over it, regardless of price, and only the MSB Reference alongside it. Combining a world-class linestage (comparable to Soulution’s own 725) with Leedh Processing volume control (the first DAC to use Gilles Milot’s celebrated algorithm) and an ultra-wide-bandwidth, ultra-low-distortion, ingeniously phase-corrected DAC, the 760 offers so much more of what JV likes and expects to hear from the best recorded music that it virtually lives in a class of its own. Here, finally, is the whole package—air, bloom, space, dimensionality, dynamic scale, electrifying transient response (on electrifying transients), fabulous low end, and (for once) equally fabulous treble. TAS’ deserving 2020 DAC of the Year award-winner. JV, 311

dCS Vivaldi Apex

dCS Vivaldi Apex

$140,000

The four-box Vivaldi is unquestionably the state of the art in functionality and technical sophistication and is in the upper echelon of the best-sounding digital playback. This flagship from dCS incorporates technology unlike that of any other digital product, with all the key sub-systems designed and built by dCS using proprietary hardware and software. Extensive changes to the Ring DAC hardware and power supply ensure a sensationally low noise floor that helps to produce a supple and dynamic sound. Particularly noteworthy is the combination of a density of information, saturation of tone color, bottom-end authority, and highly spacious yet precisely rendered soundstage that outdo the competition. Although the complete system comprises four separate chassis, not all of them are required. The pairing of the Vivaldi Transport and Vivaldi DAC will get you most of the way there. The Vivaldi Clock and Upsampler are nice additions, but not needed to realize the Vivaldi’s extraordinary sound quality. Note that the Vivaldi is a highly sophisticated instrument that requires more user involvement than most digital sources. JHb, 268/333

Read the full review: dCS Vivaldi Apex Digital-to-Analog Converter
Wadax Atlantis Reference

Wadax Atlantis Reference

$175,000

Although astronomically expensive, Wadax’s 180-pound, three-chassis Atlantis Reference DAC is a cost-no-object exercise in what’s possible in digital audio playback. The main chassis is three sections combined in an artful way and is powered by two massive outboard power supplies. The Reference is packed with innovative circuitry that is realized with lavish execution. The sonic result is like nothing RH has heard from digital; the Reference DAC has tremendous dimensionality, stunningly realistic timbral rendering, exceptional transient performance, and an overall presentation that is, by a significant margin, the state of the art in digital. The Reference DAC’s full performance potential is realized by pairing it with Wadax’s Reference Server and Akasa optical interface. RH’s reference. RH, 312

Read the full review: Wadax Atlantis Reference Music Server
Wadax Atlantis Reference

Read Next From Blog

See all
guest_editorial
BLOG

The $150 Vinyl Reissue

Can a readily available, newly minted LP of familiar music […]

JBL Launches NEW Modern Audio Line | AV Receivers and Loudspeakers
BLOG

JBL Launches NEW Modern Audio Line | AV Receivers and Loudspeakers

JBL hosted a ritzy rooftop party at Hotel Roosevelt, a […]

AlsyVox Michelangelo
BLOG

AlsyVox Announces New Flagship Full-Range Ribbon Speaker

The Spanish loudspeaker manufacturer, whose full-range ribbon Caravaggio model I […]

Is Atmos for Audiophiles?
BLOG

Is Atmos for Audiophiles?

If you’ve spent much time visiting online audiophile sites lately, […]

Adblocker Detected

"Neque porro quisquam est qui dolorem ipsum quia dolor sit amet, consectetur, adipisci velit..."

"There is no one who loves pain itself, who seeks after it and wants to have it, simply because it is pain..."