Recommended Components 2023 Edition Digital Processors

Digital Processors:


Bel Canto e1X: $6800
The Roon Ready e1X DAC/Control Preamplifier offers AES3, coaxial and optical S/PDIF, digital inputs, and USB and UPnP/DLNA-compatible Ethernet ports. (The USB and Ethernet ports support MQA-encoded data and DSD data in the DoP format.) There are also line-level and MC/MM phono analog inputs, these converted to digital so that they can be adjusted with the DSP-domain Tilt, Bass EQ, and volume controls. The e1X features line outputs, a headphone output—the Tilt and BassEQ controls are not operative with this output—and a subwoofer output. Bel Canto's free Seek app (iOS only) allows the e1x to stream audio from Qobuz, Tidal, Spotify, and vTuner internet radio and to play files from DropBox, OneDrive, and iCloud folders, or from a drive plugged into the DAC's USB-A port. Like all of Bel Canto's digital products the e1X uses a Texas Instruments PCM1792A DAC chip, which may be a 20-year-old design, but, as JA's measurements revealed, is still capable of very high resolution and low linearity error. In his critical listening sessions, JA found it difficult to ascribe an identifiable tonal character to the Bel Canto. He noted that low frequencies were well-defined with good weight, high frequencies were neither exaggerated nor rolled off, and the midrange sounded natural, but the thing that did strike him was how clear a view into recorded soundstages he was experiencing. "Transparency to the source combined with low-frequency articulation and weight was the e1X DAC's calling card," he concluded about the e1X's performance as a DAC. JA found that even though the line and phono analog inputs offered excellent measured performance, the presentation was slightly darker with analog sources, "as if the analog input had placed a finely woven scrim between me and the recorded soundstages." The Tilt and Bass EQ controls proved useful in minimizing this character. (Vol.45 Nos.10 & 11 WWW)

Benchmark DAC3 HGC: $2299 $$$ ★
Benchmark DAC3 B: $1799 $$$
Benchmark's DAC3 HGC—the last three letters designate this as the audiophile version, with a headphone amp and two analog inputs—supports files up to 24/192 and DSD64, the latter as DoP (via USB). Bearing in mind the manufacturer's suggestion that there should be no audible difference between their DAC1 and DAC3, JCA wrote, "In fact, I found the sounds of the two DACs quite different. The DAC1 was brighter; . . . the DAC3 was all about depths, in several respects . . . I heard deeper into the music." The concise conclusion to JA's Measurements sidebar: "All I can say is 'Wow!'" In a Follow-Up, JCA wrote of using the Benchmark processor with the same company's AHB2 power amp—a combination of high source output voltage and modest amplifier gain that he describes as "optimal for minimizing noise and distortion"—and reported hearing "richer and more interesting" reproduction of very subtle details. The DAC3 B is a stripped- down, lower-priced version of the DAC3 HGC, which omits the headphone amplifier, balanced and unbalanced analog inputs, volume, mute, and polarity controls, and the remote control. It has a fixed output level of 12.3V, which is about 10dB too high to be optimal with a typical domestic audio system. The DAC3 B retains the HGC's high-resolution ES9028PRO DAC chips, and when he auditioned it using the USB input JA found it offered a fatigue-free, musically involving wealth of recorded detail. "An audiophile bargain," he concluded. (Vol.40 No.11, Vol.41 No.10; HGC version WWW; Vol.46 No.3, B version WWW)

Bricasti M1SE: $10,000 ★
With first-class fit'n'finish, the dual-mono M1 DAC offers five digital inputs (USB, S/PDIF, AES3, BNC, optical—an Ethernet module is available), a volume control, measures a rack-friendly 17" W by 2" H by 12" D, and weighs 12lb. "The best digital playback I have heard," concluded JM of the original version, who also wrote that "the fact that Bricasti's M1 can play DSD and DXD files is less important than the fact that its playback of plain old 'Red Book' 16-bit/44.1kHz audio is so compelling that I, for one, don't feel shortchanged when a good recording is not 'high-resolution.'" JA also praised the M1's state-of-the-art measured behavior as well as its sound quality. SM auditioned the current Special Edition (SE) version, with the MDx upgrade. (The factory-installed MDx upgrade from earlier M1s costs $1000.) The SE adds point-to-point wiring, capacitor upgrades, and a variety of new software features. It also includes Stillpoints feet, which, with their vibration-absorbing abilities, are said to provide "a more transparent sonic presentation." The MDx upgrade to the digital circuit includes improved clocking, a later-generation Analog Devices DSP chip, a choice of 15 upsampled reconstruction filters—Minimum Phase filter 2 was SM's favorite—and allows the USB input to operate at higher sample rates. SM noted that he "heard some subtle but important differences from what I had experienced prior to the upgrade," including an increased sense of "details of timbre and soundstage exactitude but without any increased brittleness or etching. Bass seemed firmer, and the clarity of musical transients improved." (Vol.34 No.8, Vol.35 Nos. 2, 3, & 9, Vol.36 No.7, Vol.37 No.12, original version; Vol.44 No.7 WWW)

CH Precision C1.2: $46,500 as reviewed
In standard form, priced at $36,000, this modular Swiss processor offers AES3 and coaxial and optical S/PDIF digital inputs. Optional inputs are asynchronous USB ($3000), Ethernet ($6000), an analog input board, with one balanced and one unbalanced input ($2500). An optional clock synchronization board costs $1500, while it can be used with an external power supply ($20,500) and clock ($24,500). The C1.2 incorporates a volume control and uses four 24-bit PCM1704 chips per channel. With the exception of the USB input, it upsamples the input data to 705.6Hz or 768kHz. It will also accept MQA data, and DSD data via DoP. JCA wrote that With classical recordings, what he heard with the C1.2 "is what acoustical instruments sound like, precisely rendered in space. The sense of that space, and of the sounds flowing through it, is expansive and relaxed; ... it simply sounded right." On the test bench, its measurements indicated that the C1.2's reconstruction filter is a linear-phase type optimized for time-domain performance. Noise, jitter, and distortion were extremely low and resolution was high, between 19 and 20 bits. However, it appeared that the LSB with 24-bit data was being truncated. Nevertheless, the C1.2, both with and without its external clock and power supply, produced the best sound JCA had heard from a digital source. (Vol.46 No.2 WWW)

Chord Electronics DAVE: $14,000 ★
The DAVE—an acronym for Digital to Analog Veritas in Extremis—derives from the work of Chord designer Rob Watts, whose Watts Transient Aligned (WTA) filter is claimed to eliminate the timing uncertainty associated with conventional DACs of comparatively limited processing power. And the DAVE's processing power is prodigious: As JA explains, "Watts ended up with a 17th-order noise shaper (!) with 350dB dynamic range (!!) in the audioband, equivalent to 50 bits resolution (!!!)." In his system, the DAVE, which is compatible with PCM up to 32 bits/768kHz and DSD up to DSD512, sounded so good that it tore editor JA away from editing: "Darned if I didn't have to go sit in the listening chair, so compelling was the sound produced by the DAVE." In particular, he praised the DAVE's "superb re-creation of soundstage depth, its sense of musical drive, and the clarity with which it presented recorded detail." Reporting from his test bench, JA wrote: "Even if I hadn't auditioned Chord's DAVE, I would have been impressed by this DAC. Its measured performance is beyond reproach." (Vol.40 No.6 Vol.43 No.3 WWW)

dCS Bartók APEX with headphone amp: $22,950
w/o headphone amp: $20,950
Updated to APEX status, new review forthcoming. The "perfectly" named dCS Bartók—judged so by JCA for its modernist, single-box sensibility—brings an unprecedented level of thrift to the company's offerings: It is both the company's most affordable D/A processor and the one that offers the highest level of per-chassis functionality, owing to its inclusion of a headphone amplifier (which can be omitted for a $2750 savings) and an onboard version of the dCS Network Bridge streamer, the latter allowing playback from streaming services, network storage devices, and USB-connected flash drives. At the heart of the Bartók is the manufacturer's patented Ring DAC technology, here supporting native sampling rates up to 24-bit, 384kHz and up to DSD128. According to JCA, the Bartók "consistently and unambiguously revealed the character of the recordings it played, with clarity, pinpoint imaging [and] excellent image depth, fully saturated tonal colors, and no noticeable emphasis on any part of the frequency spectrum." Although neither writer saw the other's work until press time, Jim's conclusion—"the state of the art"—was echoed by JA in his test-bench report: "In this crusty old engineer's view, 'dCS' means 'Digital Done Right!' In a Follow-Up, HR experimented with the choice of reconstruction filters offered by the Bartók. He settled on the minimum-phase Filter 3, mainly because he liked its bite and contrast structure, striking a nice balance between hard and soft and keeping the music taut and lively. "Its vibrant effect on familiar recordings was nothing short of spectacular," he wrote. HR also auditioned the Bartók's headphone output. Using the low-sensitivity HiFiMan Susvara headphones, he found the sound "squeaky-glass clean and direct," with voices "crisply rendered." With Focal Stellias, the Bartók "made an attractive, lucid, and musically rousing partnering; one I could live with forever." HR summed up his time with the dCS by writing that he was not surprised at how easily and musically it handled every headphone he tried. (Vol.42 No.10, Vol.44 No.6 WWW)

dCS Rossini APEX: $32,800
The successor to the English company's well-regarded Rossini, the Apex edition is based on a reconfigured Ring DAC circuit board with an all-new analog output stage. (Earlier Rossinis can be upgraded for $9000.) Using his preferred settings—Filter 5 for Red Book, F3 for 24/88.2 up to 24/192, F6 for higher PCM resolutions, F1DSD for DSD, and M1 for MQA, DXD upsampling, and Ring DAC Map 1—JVS compared the Apex with the earlier 2.0 version with an album of Ravel piano concertos and immediately noted that with the Apex there was "a deeper silence between notes, a greater sense of grace, flow, and warmth from string instruments, and a beautiful finish to the sound that epitomized fin de siècle elegance." With a Talk Talk track, he felt that the Rossini 2.0 "sounded thinner than the Apex, with less substance. Everything seemed diminished and less involving. There was less there." JVS concluded that the Rossini Apex DAC was "more than another upgrade; it's a major advance in digital sound reproduction, one that elevates an already excellent DAC to a much higher level." While noting that the behavior of the six choices of reconstruction filter were identical to those of the earlier Rossini and dCS Vivaldi processors, JA commented that overall, "the dCS Rossini Apex's measured performance was beyond reproach." (Vol.40 No.1, Vol.41 No.5, Vol.42 No.5, original version; Vol.42 No.6, 2.0 version; Vol.45 No.10 WWW)

dCS Vivaldi Apex: $46,500
dCS Vivaldi Master Clock: $19,500
The result of the same painstaking development process that produced the dCS Rossini Apex, the Vivaldi Apex features the same analog board and the same choice of coefficient mapping for its Ring DAC and reconstruction filters as the Rossini. However, its larger chassis allows for allows greater flexibility in transformer positioning, component isolation, and what can be done with I/O and the control board. According to dCS, "Vivaldi's hardware represents a much more ambitious approach to D/A conversion than the Rossini's digital processing platform." As the Vivaldi Apex doesn't have the upsampling options offered by the single-box Rossini, JVS auditioned the Vivaldi Apex with the Vivaldi Upsampler Plus ($25,500 with Ethernet network port), as well as with the Vivaldi Master Clock ($19,500). Compared with the superb-sounding Rossini Apex and its matching Clock, JVS found the midrange richer and the highs a mite less bright. The Rossini Apex's depiction "seemed lighter and less substantial, with smaller images," he wrote. In the test lab, the Vivaldi Apex offered superb measured performance, with very high resolution and channel separation, and extremely low noise and jitter. JVS summed up his experience of the Vivaldi Apex by writing "It is rare, in a home listening room, to experience anew the full impact of great orchestral music heard in a concert hall. But the Vivaldi Apex DAC, Vivaldi Upsampler Plus, and Vivaldi Master Clock together have made that possible, repeatedly." Upgrades for the earlier Vivaldi DAC and Vivaldi One cost $9000. (Vol.46 No.3 WWW)

EMM Labs DV2: $30,000
EMM Labs' newest product is the first D/A processor to make use of the company's new VControl, a high-resolution volume-control system. Of its seven digital inputs, the DV2's USB Type B input is its most versatile, enabling PCM conversion up to DXD, DSD up to DSD128, and full MQA unfolding. Also provided are two coaxial (RCA) S/PDIF inputs, two optical (TosLink) S/PDIF inputs, one AES/EBU (XLR) input, and one proprietary EMM Optilink for SACD and CD playback. In his listening tests, JVS tried using the DV2 in a variety of configurations; he noted that by the time he'd done so, "it had become clear that the DV2 is one of the finest-sounding DACs with volume control that I've ever heard in my reference system." Indeed, Jason praised the DV2 for delivering, compared to other processors he's enjoyed in that setting, "the smoothest, most naturally warm, most consistently engaging and non-fatiguing reproduction of music." Writing from his test bench, JA noted that the DV2 offers resolution that's "close to the state of the art." Check the EMM Labs website to see if your version needs the no-cost volume-control update. One of JVS's reference DACs. (Vol.42 No.3 WWW)

exaSound s88 Mark II: $7599
KR was impressed by this network-connected 8-channel D/A processor, writing that "the s88 sounded just right from the first notes, and that impression endured as I immersed myself in a wide range of music over several weeks. . . . [I]n fact, it exceeds the performance of any DAC that I have used. I would describe its sound as transparent rather than detailed, dynamically responsive rather than lively, and honest in how it presents voices." On the test bench, the s88 offered a resolution of 21 bits, which is among the highest the magazine has found. The default reconstruction filter is a minimum-phase type and harmonic distortion, intermodulation distortion, and noise levels were all extremely low. KR concluded: "For some who are already committed to multichannel, the s88, with its superb DAC, convenient streaming and that oh-so-welcome volume control, may be the realization of their dreams. It is of mine." KR has since obtained the Mark II upgrade, which has no discernible effect on sonics. (Vol.44 No.4 WWW)

HoloAudio May KTE (Level 3): $5598 as reviewed
This well-constructed, hot-running, R-2R ladder DAC–based, two-box processor costs $3798–$4998 depending on options. It offers seven digital inputs—two coaxial, one optical, an AES/EBU, a USB, and two I2S over HDMI—and balanced (XLR) and single-ended (RCA) analog outputs. The input stage uses op-amps, the output stage discrete transistors biased into class-A. It can be operated as a NOS (Non-OverSampling) DAC or in three different oversampling (OS) modes. (The DSD mode reduces the output level by 6dB.) When HR auditioned the top-of-the-line Level 3 version of the May in NOS mode, the very first album he played "sounded more fundamentally right than any digital reproduction I have experienced in my little bunker," he wrote. "Better than any DAC I know, the May recovers the natural pressure behind musical flow." He found that PCM oversampling added a harsh glare and muddled image specificity, and while the sound was clear with CD data and DSD oversampling, with a nice flow and fine musical textures, the bass was softer and soundstages less precisely drawn. "The May's true-to-life demeanor made recorded music seem infinite and beautiful," he concluded. JA was equally impressed by the transparency and neutrality of the May, though he found that the excellent soundstage depth and sense of musical "drive" in NOS mode had to be set against this mode's tendency to make pianos sound too "clangy." Piano in OS DSD mode remained clean and closer to the true sound of the instrument, he decided. In addition, densely scored climaxes "clogged up" a little in NOS mode while remaining clean in DSD mode. On the test bench, the May offered superb measured performance, including 22-bit resolution, greater even than that offered by the overperforming Weiss DAC502! (Vol.43 Nos.8 & 9 WWW)

Mola Mola Tambaqui: $13,500
This Bruno Putzeys–designed, Roon Ready D/A processor uses a proprietary digital filter/DAC stage and can be controlled with a smartphone app or an Apple Remote. No MQA capability, but the Tambaqui decodes DSD natively. Digital inputs include USB, TosLink and coaxial S/PDIF, AES3, Ethernet, and I2S over HDMI. Analog outputs are balanced on XLR and headphone on ¼" and four-pin XLR jacks, both with a volume control and a choice of maximum output level. HR loved what he heard, writing that "the Mola Mola's most conspicuous sonic trait was a bright, evenly illumined clarity"; he added that "Mola Mola's Tambaqui did not whisper—it declared loudly: 'See! The truth is more beautiful than you thought it would be!'" In his follow-up review, KM agreed with HR: "The Mola Mola Tambaqui DAC is easily the finest digital-to-analog converter I've heard in my reference system, provoking fresh epiphanies with well-known music. Its beautiful remote control and its ability to function as a preamp adds more value to this expensive machine." JA found that the Tambaqui offered almost 22 bits of resolution, one of the highest he had encountered, and declared that his testing revealed state-of-the-digital-art measured performance. (Vol.44 No.12, Vol.45 Nos.1 & 6 WWW)

Okto dac8 Stereo: €1289 (€1378 with Streaming Option) $$$
Almost identical to the multichannel dac8 PRO in appearance, the dac8 Stereo features a 1/4" headphone jack, two pairs of balanced-output XLR jacks, and a plethora of inputs: one AES/EBU (XLR); four S/PDIF (two coaxial RCA, two TosLink optical); USB Type B; two USB Type A; and Ethernet (RJ45). The ESS Sabre DAC chips offer a choice of seven reconstruction filters for PCM data and two ultrasonic low-pass filters for DSD data. Despite its affordable price, the dac8 Stereo was one of the highest-resolution D/A processors JA had experienced—21 bits, rivaled only by the HoloAudio May, the MBL N31, the Mola Mola Tambaqui, and the Weiss DAC502. The USB input offers lower jitter than the S/PDIF and AES/EBU inputs, he found, and so is preferred. The dac8 Stereo "opened a transparent window into recorded soundstages, unaccompanied by any feeling of fatigue or undue tonal emphasis," JA wrote, adding that he continued to be impressed throughout his auditioning by the Okto processor's combination of upper-bass weight and leading-edge definition. "Not only does the Okto dac8 Stereo offer superb sound quality and state-of-the-art measured performance; its price is a fraction of what you'd pay for competing products," he concluded. Listed price includes a Raspberry Pi 4–based streaming module (€89 when bought separately) and an Apple remote control (€25 when bought separately). (Vol.44 No.2 WWW)

Weiss DAC502: $10,695
The earlier Weiss D/A processors reviewed in Stereophile offered astonishing resolution coupled with sound quality "to die for." The Roon Ready DAC502 more than equals its predecessors in both aspects of performance and adds an Ethernet port, balanced and single-ended headphone outputs, a volume control, a choice of maximum output levels, and several DSP functions including parametric equalization, room correction, binaural-to-loudspeaker processing, vinyl emulation, loudness normalization, and de-essing. The DAC502's low frequencies "combined clarity with an excellent sense of what the late Art Dudley used to call 'force'," wrote JA, adding that he had never heard the layering of recorded soundstages so clearly delineated as with the DAC502. "The Weiss DAC502 retrieves more information from the digits than any other DAC I have auditioned, with the possible exceptions of the Chord DAVE and dCS Vivaldi," he concluded. JVS was equally impressed: "Would I recommend the Weiss DAC502? In a heartbeat. It doesn't merely sound clear, alive, full, and supremely musical; it also offers a headphone jack and a host of DSP options that can address issues in many rooms, speakers, and equipment configurations; . . . if I were willing to forgo MQA playback (whose sound I love), I would be more than content to live with the DAC502 for many years to come." If you don't need the balanced headphone output, the smaller DAC501 ($8750) offers the same performance and feature set as the DAC502. (Vol.43 Nos.8 & 10 WWW)


Accuphase DG-68 Digital Voicing Equalizer: $24,000
The fifth iteration of a unique Japanese product that made its debut in 1997, the DG-68 offers high-resolution, DSP-based multiband equalization and versatile room-acoustic correction abilities (a microphone is included), coupled with a 35-band spectrum analyzer and, according to JA's measurements, state-of-the-art digital/analog conversion. The DG-68 has both analog and digital inputs and outputs. Using the analog inputs and outputs and experimenting with the DG-68's settings to optimize the sound of his reference system in his room, JVS found that with VC/EQ active, "guitar strums sounded more realistic, bass was fuller. . . . Tonality was superb, and the slightest change in dynamics or emphasis was easy to hear and savor." He concluded that Accuphase's Digital Voicing Equalizer enriched his experience of reproduced music far more than he could have imagined. "It is transformational and performs flawlessly, to oft-astounding effect. For those who can afford it, its rich musical dividends may prove essential." JVS subsequently repeated his auditioning using the DG-68's digital inputs and outputs. He found that the sound was "more substantial in the best ways possible without, to these ears, any loss in transparency, color, [or] depth. . . . The DG-68's digital in/ out operation enhanced my listening experience in every imaginable way short of transporting me to the actual recording venue." (Vol.44 Nos.8 & 12 WWW)

Audio-GD R7HE MK2: $4990
Designed and developed under the leadership of Mr. He Qinghua, the "First Prize Winner" of the National Semiconductor (USA) Audio Design Contest, the R7HE MK2 features the Chinese manufacturer's current-domain topology. This two-channel processor features eight sets of fully discrete R–2R DAC modules for decoding PCM data and four sets of discrete DSD hardware decoders. There are six digital inputs—USB, I2S (over RCA and BNC), TosLink, AES3, and HDMI—and both balanced and single-ended analog outputs. It offers 2×, 4×, and 8× oversampling modes, as well as a NOS mode. While HR found that the R7HE's 8× oversampling mode pristine, pure, tight, and clear in a manner he was sure many audiophiles will find compelling, overall he thought oversampling "felt awkward and emotionally detached. It did not express recordings with as much beauty or feeling as NOS." HR concluded that what was unique and special about the Audio-GD R7HE MK2 in NOS mode was "how it renders recordings in a heightened state of naturally lit beauty and how clearly it conveys the force and drive behind recorded sounds. The R7HE delivered the dynamism and clarity of the Mola Mola Tambaqui coupled with the triode-like splendor of the HoloAudio May and Denafrips's Terminator Plus." (Vol.45 No.11 WWW)

Gold Note DS-10 EVO: $3699
This modest-sized, MQA-capable, Roon Ready, Italian D/A processor includes a volume control, AES/EBU, S/PDIF, Ethernet, USB, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi inputs, and a headphone output. DSP presets allow the DS-10's functionality to be adjusted by an almost infinite amount. The sample reviewed was powered by the optional PSU-10 EVO supply ($1299), and while JVS didn't feel the DS-10 retrieved as much detail as his more expensive reference DACs, he felt its presentation delved deep into the music on his favorite files. The DS-10 "conveyed the smile, warmth, and love behind the notes in ways other DACs miss," he wrote. JVS summed up his time with the Gold Note by saying "This little baby sounded so good—so musical—with its optional, identically dimensioned PS-10 EVO power supply that I'd urge anyone who can shell out $4300 to try them together." (Vol.43 No.8 WWW)

HoloAudio Spring 3: $3098
The original nonoversampling (NOS) Spring, which HR and AD reviewed in Vol.41 Nos.5 & 7, was HR's reference DAC for two years. The Spring 3 is available in thee versions; the sample reviewed was the top-of-the-line KTE Level 3, which sports a flat-wire-wound O-core power transformer, high-purity 1.5mm OCC silver wiring, R-2R DAC modules hand-selected based on measured performance, and the "enhanced" USB module found only in the Level 2 and KTE versions of HoloAudio's May. HR found that the Spring 3 sounded more like the May than the original Spring but noted that it brought "something uniquely its own to the HoloAudio experience, something lively and bright and rosy-cheeked alluring." One might almost say "springlike." He summed his time with the Spring 3 by writing that in terms of build quality, engineering intelligence, and the ebullient character of its solid, stirringly vital sound, the HoloAudio Spring 3 is equal to or better than any DAC he'd used. (Vol.45 No.5 WWW)

Ideon Audio Ayazi mk2: $3950
Ideon Audio 3R Master Time Black Star Clock: $3950
Reviewed as a system, this pairing from Greece offers coaxial S/PDIF and asynchronous USB inputs and one pair of single-ended outputs. The Ayazi processor uses the well-regarded ESS DAC chips. Without the Master Time Black Star Clock, AH found that the Ayazi reproduced music with less resolution and timbral accuracy and created a spatially smaller, less lifelike sound. "Music sounded duller and less compelling," he wrote. With the external clock, nothing was exaggerated or missing, including deep bass and the high highs, and nothing sounded strident or splashy. This sense of order was heightened by profoundly silent backgrounds and remarkable resolution. "With a combined price of [$7900], it is by no means inexpensive," AH concluded, "but it provides good value for the refined musical spectacle it creates." JA noted that the Ayazi did well on the test bench, but he didn't find any difference in its measured performance when fed USB data via the 3R Master Time Black Star Clock. Still, based on AH's subjective evaluation, the A+ rating is only when used with the 3R Master Time Black Star Clock; without the clock, this is a class B DAC. (Vol.45 No.8 WWW)

iFi Audio ZEN DAC Signature V2: $599 with ZEN CAN
Packaged with the iFi ZEN CAN Signature headphone amplifier—see Headphones & Headphone Accessories —the MQA-capable ZEN DAC Signature V2 offers a single USB 3.0 input and both single-ended and balanced outputs, the latter on a 4.4mm Pentaconn connector. (The package includes a balanced 4.4mm-to-4.4mm Pentaconn cable.) Both outputs can be operated in fixed- or variable-level modes. JMu found that in fixed mode the ZEN DAC's maximum output level was a little too high with the ZEN CAN driving her usual headphones—she used iFi's iEMatch balanced attenuating cable ($49). (Peculiarly, with the ZEN DAC's fixed level set to its lowest, JCA didn't find the attenuator cable necessary with the ZEN CAN and the same headphones.) Using the DAC in her main system, and using its volume control, JMu said its sonics exceeded her expectations: "Detail was maintained, and the sound was robust, full, and clear. Backgrounds remained quiet." JA found that the ZEN DAC Signature v2 had 19 bits' worth of resolution and very low levels of harmonic distortion. Excellent performance for the price. (Vol.45 Nos.1 & 3 WWW)

Jadis JS1 MkV: $20,900
A two-chassis processor with fully balanced circuitry, the Jadis uses tubes for its balanced and single-ended outputs. "Despite its majestic weight, size, and price, the JS1 offers few concessions to modernity or convenience: no volume control, no network connection, no selectable filters, no MQA, no wireless anything," AH wrote. It does have a USB input that accepts and converts PCM data up to 24/384, as well as DSD. AH "strongly" preferred the sound with USB data, which was corroborated by JA's measurements. The Jadis had an expansive, easy-to-listen-to, celebratory personality, AH wrote: "It allowed the music to flow with not a trace of the edginess, glassiness, and grayness that plagues some digital components." He felt that the RS1 MkV excelled in two areas: It created a vast, shimmering soundstage, and it portrayed instruments and voices with more tonal richness and more vivid colors than he imagined a digital component could. Summing up, AH wrote, "I can confidently say that the Jadis JS1 offers something that, if not unique, is at least highly distinctive: a digital source that uses tubes to offer a rich, colorful, tactile, propulsive sound, state-of-the-art soundstaging, complete freedom from digital artifacts, and an ability to breathe life into just about any recording." JA summed up the Jadis JS1 MkV's measured performance as "dominated by the behavior of the tubed analog stage. To the presumably clean output of the AKM4497EQ DAC chip, it adds low-order harmonic distortion and a random noisefloor that increases in level at low frequencies. In other words: tube sound." (Vol.45 No.1 WWW)

Lumin P1: $10,000
The elegant-looking, Roon Ready P1 offers a complete set of digital inputs—AES3, S/PDIF (coaxial and TosLink), USB, Ethernet (electrical and optical), with full MQA decoding—as well as balanced and unbalanced analog inputs, one HDMI 2.0 input, and three ARC-enabled HDMI 2.0 outputs with 4K video passthrough. There are balanced and single-ended analog outputs and S/PDIF (BNC) and USB digital outputs, and the digital volume control is based on Leedh processing, which minimizes the number of additional bits introduced in mathematical operations in order to reduce or eliminate truncation-related loss of information. JA auditioned the P1 with Lumin's L1 network-attached UPnP server ($1400 for the 5TB version; a 2TB version is also available), using both Roon and Lumin's app. He was surprised to find that bass guitar had a better sense of drive when played from the L1 with the Lumin app than when he used Roon to play the file from the Roon Nucleus's internal storage. JA concluded that the P1 was a superb-sounding D/A processor and "its transparent-sounding analog inputs and full video functionality are a welcome bonus." On the test bench, the P1 offered high resolution and low noise and distortion. The analog inputs had a low input impedance, which might be a problem with source components having tubed output stages. (Vol.45 No.4 WWW)

Meitner MA3 Integrated: $10,500
Trickled down from EMM's DV2, the MA3 uses the same fully discrete, one-bit DAC circuit, with an internal conversion rate of DSD1024. The digital-domain volume control is said to preserve resolution at low settings and, unlike the DV2, the Roon Ready, MQA-capable MA3 can stream music from a network-attached storage device (NAS) or from streaming services via its Ethernet and USB ports. Using either Roon or the free MConnect app, JVS noted that "the MA3's soundstage was impressively wide, its bass was quite strong, and its colors were true." His conclusion? "The MA3 doesn't just take you from Point A to Point B; it makes every journey a joy. Anyone in the market for a versatile one-piece, Roon Ready, MQA-capable streaming DAC with volume control that is capable of high-resolution PCM and DSD playback will be all the richer for taking it for a spin." In the test lab, the MA3 offered somewhat different measured behavior depending on whether it was decoding impulse-like data or continuous waveform data, this typical of Ed Meitner's DAC designs for 30 years. But with both kinds of data, the MA3's measurements were excellent, with high resolution and low noise and distortion. (Vol.45 No.6 WWW)

Sonnet Audio Morpheus MKII: $3149
As well as the usual S/PDIF and AES3 inputs, this 24-bit, non-oversampling D/A processor offers a choice of USB or I2S input ports. Both balanced and single-ended outputs are offered, and, usefully, the Morpheus features a volume control. It doesn't decode DSD data. AH found that the USB input didn't sound as vivid as the AES3 input, but the I2S input was his favorite. Compared with AES3, "instruments became less homogenized, each sounding more distinct and colorful, and everything in the soundfield grew more precise, solid, and well-organized," he wrote. JA found that the S/PDIF and AES3 inputs had relatively high levels of jitter, though he was impressed by the 20-bit resolution offered by the Morpheus's R-2R ladder-DAC topology. AH summed up his time with the Morpheus, writing that "this thoughtfully designed Dutch DAC . . . resolved massive amounts of information while reproducing my favorite music in a natural, embodied manner that never sounded strident. It made listening to even early or poor recordings musically meaningful and fun." The optional MQA card adds $199, though AH couldn't get this to work with I2S data, just AES3. MKII upgrade is trivial, unlikely to affect sonics. (Vol.44 No.11 WWW)

Verity DAC: $25,000
This Canadian assault on the state of the digital/analog conversion art strikes a perfect balance between the retrieval of detail and the overemphasis of that detail, decided JA. It has three digital inputs—AES3, coaxial S/PDIF, and USB 2.0, this conforming to the Roon-recognized ALSA standard—balanced and single-ended analog outputs, but a single upsampled reconstruction filter, a conventional linear-phase type. As the Verity's name suggests, it can be operated in DAC mode, with a fixed output, or PRE mode, with a high-precision volume control. Although the much-traveled review sample had some reliability issues, when these had been resolved the DAC/PRE did well in the test lab, offering very low distortion and noise and >20 bits resolution. "Both the Verity's sound quality and its performance on the test bench are up there with the best I have experienced," concluded JA. An Apple remote control is supplied; optional isolation base costs $5000. (Vol.44 No.8 WWW)


Denafrips Enyo: $850 $$$
This affordable, recently renamed D/A processor retained all of the pricier Denafrips Terminator's features, and in OS Slow mode, "a majority portion of the flagship's engaging character," HR wrote, "but the sounds it projected seemed smaller and denser and tighter," while "the sound in OS-Fast was kind of forward, rough, and ringy, with sharpish, sometimes glaring highs." In NOS mode, the Ares II "was relaxed and musical but exhibited a slight diffusion and grainy flatness," he found. HR summed up his time with the Ares II by writing that it "recovered more ambient/reverberant information and generated larger, more precisely mapped soundstages than any DAC I've encountered under $1698. . . . I see the Denafrips Ares II as a working person's superDAC." JA's measurements found that the OS filter modes overloaded with full-scale high-frequency signals, and that there was a peculiar modulation of the ladder DAC's linearity error with signal level. Otherwise this inexpensive DAC offers often-superb measured performance, he concluded. (Vol.43 Nos.9 & 11 WWW)

Lejonklou Källa: $8495
Audiophiles turn up their noses at the lossy compression used by the Spotify streaming service. But to his amazement, AH found that with this bare-bones Swedish DAC—it is limited to 16/44.1 resolution and the manufacturer says it's designed to work best with AirPlay—"Spotify drew me into my music in a way I hadn't experienced previously with digital. It did away with the invisible glass wall digital often places between the music and the listener more thoroughly than any device I've heard." Compared with lossless audio streamed to the Källa from Qobuz, AH found that while he heard slightly more solidity, more incisive detail, and maybe a bit more tone color with Qobuz, with Spotify "the music simply soared and jumped, while with Qobuz it kind of sat there, glowering." (Vol.46 No.3 WWW)

Mojo Audio Mystique X SE: $9999
See Herb Reichert's review on p.151 of this issue. (Vol.46 No.4 WWW)

Topping DM7: $599.99 $$$
This eight-channel processor from China has just one digital input, USB, and the balanced analog outputs are on TRS jacks rather than XLRs. It includes a master volume control and individual channel gain controls, all with 0.5dB resolution. (Level adjustments for individual channels can be made with the supplied remote control.) A front-panel display shows volume, whether the audio data are PCM or DSD, and bit depth/sample rate. Like other processors that use the ES9038PRO DAC chip, the DM7 offers a choice of seven PCM reconstruction filters and four DSD filters. There are also two choices for maximum output levels—4V, the default, and 5V—and fixed or variable volume. KR was able to use both Roon and JRiver with the Topping and commented on impressive dynamic range, both in stereo and multichannel playback, a believable soundstage, and "striking purity." KR decided that the DM7 "offers the hard-to-beat combination of simple operation, low cost, and excellent sound." in the test lab, the DM7 offered a high resolution of 19 bits, with low linearity error and very low levels of distortion, random noise, and jitter. "The Topping DM7's measured performance is superb, even without taking its affordable price into account," wrote JA. Still, absurrdly high value for money. High Class B. (Vol.46 No.1 WWW)


WiiM Mini: $99 $$$
This tiny, unbelievably affordable, Wi-Fi–capable network bridge also has an analog input and output with A/D and D/A converters and a volume control. The analog input is limited to 16/48 but via Wi-Fi, the Mini will accept hi-rez data up to 24/192 and output those data from its TosLink S/PDIF port. It will also decode hi-rez data to analog, though the sample rate is limited to 96kHz. WiiM's Home app allows hi-rez audio to be streamed from Qobuz, and the Mini can also receive normal-resolution data sent via Wi-Fi using AirPlay 2 and Roon. Multiple Minis can be operated simultaneously for multiroom use—a built-in microphone allows each Mini's latency to be calibrated to ensure that they are synchronized. JA commented that the Mini's analog input and output are serviceable, but it was its ability to output hi-rez audio data from its TosLink output that got this bargain-priced product a recommendation. While preparing the review in April 2022, JA occasionally had problems with word-length truncation when streaming 24-bit data from Qobuz or from files on his iPhone when he changed the maximum TosLink sample rate with the Home app. These problems could be resolved with a reboot, and a firmware update dated July 1, 2022, solved it completely. Rating is for DAC performance; Class A as a network bridge. (Vol.45 No.8 WWW)

Denafrips Terminator Plus, iFi Rose RS250, Naim ND5 XS 2, replaced by newer models not yet reviewed. Pro-Ject Stream Box S2 Ultra, not auditioned in a long time.

JRT's picture

The listing includes, "Topping Pre90: $599 plus $249 for the Ext90 input extender"

Topping's more recent A90 Discrete, aka A90D ($599) seems to include similar preamplifier functionality as the Pre90 at the same price, including the relay switched R-2R attenuator, and facility to add the Ext90 ($249) input extender. However the A90D also includes a headphone amplifier, which is not included in the Pre90, and the A90D uses discrete electronics in the audio amplifiers.

I am suggesting that the A90D might be a good subject for future review; and in the review bundle, it might be worthwhile to also request the aforementioned Ext90, the D90SE ($899) DA converter, and the SR2 ($219) modular three shelf aluminum component rack, which has suitable geometry, is designed for use with these components.

This isn't SPAM. I have no financial interest in this, have no affiliation with Topping or any of the vendors. I was merely considering updating my old home office setup, maybe.

Indydan's picture

Can Stereophile please remove all MQA enabled equipment from the recommended list?

mieswall's picture

Well Torquemada, why so shy?
Along with those A+ sinners of BelCanto's, CH Precision, dcs, EMM Labs (average cost of the heretics close to US$31,000), and also those more modest but equal sinners of GoldNote, IFI, Meitner, Sonnet, etc; why don't we also include Bob Stuart and Peter Craven in the bonfire and joyfully watch them burn? We should also declare Michael Gerzon a black angel (after all, most of MQA ideas were conceived by this AIA Gold Medalist devil).
And beware Fremer, Serinus, Austin (and every other one suggesting the earth isn't flat, btw): Don't you dare praising MQA again! We are watching you!

Kal Rubinson's picture

Why? I think people who want it and those who don't are equally well served by the information.

(Posted by someone in the latter group.)

miguelito's picture

Devices supporting MQA also support most other standards - I don't see a reason to remove them. Also, I have some MQA albums (some white-glove albums were done extremely well) so I want to be able to play those going forward.

JRT's picture

I noticed that the front page does not list the annual Recommended Components articles in the footer. I think that adding that listing or adding a single link in the footer to a page loaded with a collection of links to those annual articles might attract more page views.