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.

Editors’ Choice: DACs $10000 and Up

Soulution 760

Berkeley Audio Design Alpha DAC Series 3


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.

Editors’ Choice: DACs $10000 and Up

Esoteric N-05XD


Connect the N-05 to your network, add a USB or NAS drive, connect an iPad to your wireless network, and you’re ready to access your music library via Esoteric’s iPad app. Integral Tidal streaming expands musical offerings beyond your file-based library. The N-05 renders an expansive soundstage of considerable realism, projecting instruments in space with air around them and no smearing of images. Dynamic contrasts are well captured, particularly microdynamic nuances. Timbres are free from edginess and distortion. The build-quality and chassis work are typical Esoteric—that is, drop-dead gorgeous. 

Editors’ Choice: DACs $10000 and Up

dCS Bartók


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. 

Editors’ Choice: DACs $10000 and Up

Brinkmann Nyquist Mk II


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. 

Editors’ Choice: DACs $10000 and Up

Berkeley Audio Design Alpha DAC Reference Series 3 


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 $2k Alpha USB) and has no networking capabilities or DSD decoding. 

Editors’ Choice: DACs $10000 and Up

Ideon Absolute


That Ideon Audio’s chief engineer Vasilis Tounas has launched a full-out assault on the state-of-the-digital-art is apparent the first time one picks this component up or tries to: The CNC-machined aluminum chassis alone weighs close to 50 pounds. Ideon utilizes an ESS Sabre DAC chip with a 140dB dynamic range and takes full advantage of this remarkable specification with a design that is more than a little obsessive about keeping extraneous noise levels as low as possible. The result is a musical presentation with exceptional dynamic life and abundant musical detail. The use of a good preamp is mandatory. 


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 high-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. 

Editors’ Choice: DACs $10000 and Up

Soulution 760 


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. 

Editors’ Choice: DACs $10000 and Up


Read Next From Review

See all

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..."