Recommended Components 2024 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: $2399 (includes remote) ★ $$$
Benchmark DAC3 B: $1899 $$$
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 DAC/Controller: from $36,000; As reviewed $43,500
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 705.6kHz 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)

dCS Bartók APEX: $20,950, $22,950 with headphone amp
The result of extensive changes to dCS's Ring DAC hardware and an improved power supply, among other changes, the Apex version of HR's daily-driver D/A headphone amplifier produced musical sounds that were more fantastically appealing than the ones generated by the original Bartók or any other DAC he'd reviewed. Using the dCS Mosaic app, DXD upsampling, Filter 3, and Map 1, HE wrote that "the Bartók Apex has a wet feel to its clarity. The original leaned toward transistor-dry . . . [The Apex] mixed an R-2R naturalness . . . with a muscular, free- flowing dynamic that kept my attention focused on musical content." (Vol.46 No.8 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: $21,000
dCS Vivaldi Upsampler: $27,000
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)

Ferrum Wandla: $2795
This slim, MQA-capable D/A processor from Poland can be used with its line-wart supply or with Ferrum's HYPSOS external supply ($1195). Digital inputs include AES3; optical and electrical S/PDIF; USB-C (PCM up to 32/768, DSD up to DSD 256); and HDMI ARC. There is also a single-ended analog input as well as balanced and unbalanced analog outputs. The Wandla offers three of the reconstruction filters incorporated in its ESS Sabre ES-9038PRO DAC chip plus two "HQ" filters created for Ferrum by Signalyst, known for their work on the HQPlayer app. (HR preferred the default HQ Apodizing filter.) With the Wandla's standard supply, HR felt that "melodies felt inhibited, and there was a subtle but distinct metallic hardness that infused the body of every note. Reverb tails were shortened." Adding the HYPSOS supply set to 22V "made menu-surfing a pleasure," commented HR, adding that hardness was relieved. "Martha Argerich's Winter Music became supple and distinctly more three-dimensional, with clear, vibrating open spaces between notes." He wished that this power supply upgrade was something every audiophile could experience. The improvement was not subtle, "and it leaves no doubt about how much a component's source of energy affects the flow, luster, and body of reproduced music." HR concluded that the Wandla-HYPSOS combo "is a thoroughly, wisely engineered converter that made me look forward to using it and made me smile every time I did. At its best with the HYPSOS, the Wandla danced in the same ballroom as DACs costing over $10,000." On the test bench, the Wandla performed supremely well with both analog and digital inputs, even without the HYPSOS supply. "It boasts very high resolution, very low distortion and noise, and a bombproof output stage," wrote JA. (Vol.47 No.2 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)

Merging+Hapi MkII: $8411 with 2 DA8P D/A cards
In its base configuration, this slim processor supports eight channels of input or output via AES3, ADAT, or stereo S/PDIF. Expansion slots allow up to two plugin cards to be added, each of which can support eight channels of D/A, A/D, or two-way A/D/A. KR auditioned the Hapi with the DA8P board, which provides eight balanced analog output channels on a DB-25 connector. There are also headphone outputs. As well as front-panel controls, the Hapi can be controlled by a local webpage. Multichannel data is sourced from the user'cccccccccs network using the RAVENNA/AES67 protocol. "It did not take symphonic power, multiple channels, or even a recent recording to demonstrate the Hapi's complete competence," wrote KR. He found differences between the Hapi and his reference exaSound s88 and Okto DAC8 Pro processors to be elusive in level-matched A/B comparisons, but he tended to choose the Hapi over the others due to his growing expectation of consistency and equanimity across the range of recordings that he played. "I was drawn to the Hapi MkII because of its support for 16 channels in high-resolution PCM and DSD and its high output voltage capability," he noted. Adding that he harbored the hope that it would sound as good as or better than what he already owned, "it has met all these expectations and enhanced the joy and satisfaction I get from my music system beyond my expectations." JA was equally impressed. "With its superbly high resolution, vanishingly low levels of noise and distortion, and superb jitter rejection, Merging's Hapi MkII offers state-of-the-digital-art measured performance," he wrote. (Vol.47 No.1 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 (€1408 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)

StormAudio ISP Evo immersive sound preamp/processor: $17,999–$21,999 depending on channel count and digital format
While this multichannel preamp/processor offers a few "legacy" analog inputs, it is for the most part all-digital, input to output, including network connections on both ends. Since it is "AoIP (AES67/Ravenna) Dante Compatible," it can communicate directly to network-enabled loudspeakers, DACs, amplifiers, etc. KR used Merging's MAD ASIO driver package installed on his PC server and was then able to send the Evo's output to the network input of his Ravenna-compliant Hapi II multichannel DAC. The central graphical display on the front panel indicates input choice, source format, overall volume, and an active level display of the individual channels. Menu access is accomplished with the Up, Down, and Home buttons to the left of the display and the large multifunction knob to the right. There is also a remote control and a Web app, both of which KR preferred. The Evo incorporates Dirac Live Active Room Treatment (ART), which utilizes the low-frequency output of all the speakers and subs (each within its own useful bandwidth) to control the room by sending out antisignals to cancel low-frequency resonances, taking into consideration the in-room acoustical interaction of all the speakers and subs up to 150Hz. While the ISP Evo limits its output sample rate to 48kHz while applying its digital signal processing, KR found that the sound with the ISP Evo was remarkably clear and undistorted, fully capable of distinguishing between lossy sources and higher-resolution, discrete, lossless sources, as well as between lossy streamed Atmos and Atmos TrueHD. KR concluded that he was confident that the ISP Evo, as a purely digital processer, did not impose significant, audible coloration on the sound. "What's more, the sophisticated yet lucid configuration procedures and the smooth integration of functions and controls are up to the standard that one expects from a high-end product. In particular, the ISP Evo offers the most integrated and effective implementation of Dirac Live I've ever used." (Vol.47 No.3 WWW)

Totaldac d1-unity: €11,500
Listening to a 16/44.1 stream of the soundtrack to Todd Haynes's 2007 film I'm Not There, AH commented that the body of Salvador Duran's Martin acoustic guitar "sounded rich, dense, and distinctly solid, as it does through a good record player and on stage. Hearing it hanging between my speakers produced what my brain had assumed was a distinctly analog thrill. The French DAC was allowing me to revel in one of the most fun illusions of reproduced music—the realistic presence of voices and instruments—using a digital signal." AH concluded that the Totaldac made music sound more unrestrained and physically believable than any digital front-end he'd heard. (Vol.46 No.12 WWW)

Weiss DAC502: $10,995
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)

Weiss Engineering Helios: $21,995
The Roon Ready Helios superficially looks identical to the DAC502 that JA reviewed in August 2022, but it uses a new output stage that can drive headphones directly (headphone adapter cables cost $495). While the Helios uses the same ESS Sabre ES9038PRO HyperStream II DAC chip, four of the DAC channels are operated in parallel for each analog output compared with the DAC502's two. The Helios offers the same DSP functions as the earlier processor—Room EQ, Creative (parametric) EQ, DeEsser, Dynamic Adaptation, Vinyl Emulation, and Crosstalk Cancellation—and there are now a large number of equalization presets available for headphones. In the test lab, the Weiss Helios featured a resolution between 21 and 22 bits, which is the highest JA had encountered, greater even than that of the DAC502. The Helios also offered very low levels of harmonic and intermodulation distortion and excellent rejection of word-clock jitter. JA wrote of the DAC502 that it retrieved more information from the digits than any other DAC he had auditioned. With both loudspeakers and headphones, he found that the Helios echoed the DAC502's extraordinary clarity, "but with an enhanced sense of involvement with the music." JA concluded that three decades ago, choosing a product that favored "accuracy" or "musicality" may have been necessary, but today that isn't the case. "The Weiss Helios shows you can have both." (Vol.47 No.3 WWW)


Accuphase DG-68 Digital Voicing Equalizer: $18,950
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 MK3: $4990 in silver and black
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)

GeerFab Audio D.BOB (Digital BreakOut Box): $999
"This unique device is a solution to a problem that previously couldn't be solved," wrote KR. The GeerFab D.BOB digital breakout box takes a universal player's HDMI output and with SACDs, extracts two-channel DSD data from the HDMI audio stream, and outputs DoP (DSD-over-PCM) via RCA and TosLink S/PDIF connectors. GeerFab assures users that this implementation is both legal and compatible with HDMI 1.4b and HDCP 1.4. JA's measurements confirmed that the D.BOB's output was bit-perfect–ie, the bits it outputs via S/PDIF are the same as those sent to it via HDMI. (Vol.43 No.5 WWW)

HiFi Rose RS250A: $2695
The original version of the Roon Ready RS250 offered every feature a downsizing audiophile would need other than a power amplifier and loudspeakers: network, FM radio, digital, and line-level analog audio inputs; video, digital, and analog outputs, including a headphone jack; and a four-color touchscreen that, as well as controlling the RS250, displays streamed videos. The RS250 can also be controlled with the RoseConnect Premium app for iOS and Android. Optional accessories include an internal SSD for music-data storage and a CD drive. Of several filters on offer, JA preferred the apodizing "Corrected minimum phase Fast Roll-off" filter, which he felt offered maximum transparency to recorded detail. Upsampling, he found, slightly softened the highs. The only measured shortfall was higher-than-usual jitter from the internal DAC, which might have been associated with a slight lack of low-frequency clarity. The RS250A replaced the RS250's ESS ES9038Q2M two-channel DAC chip with the higher-performance ESS ES9028PRO and supports PCM data formats up to 32/768 and DSD formats up to DSD512. JA concluded his review of the original RS250 by writing, "the sound quality of the HiFi Rose RS250 suggests that nothing had been compromised in packing so many features into its small chassis." JA repeats that conclusion for the new RS250A, adding that "it is an elegant-looking, well-engineered, multipurpose component." (RS250, Vol.44 No.12 WWW; RS250A, Vol.46 No.10 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: $4000
Ideon Audio 3R Master Time Black Star Clock: $4000
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 $7800, 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 NEO Stream: $1299
As the name suggests, this is a streaming D/A processor. It offers a choice of four digital reconstruction filters, including iFi's "Bit Perfect" type and features full MQA decoding. There is an RJ45 Ethernet input, an optical M12 Ethernet input, two USB Type A jacks (both input and output), a USB-C connection for system updates, a Wi-Fi antenna, and 12S on HDMI, TosLink, coax S/PDIF, and AES3 digital outputs. There are balanced (on a 4.4mm "Pentacon" jack), and single-ended (RCA) analog outputs. A small "OptiBox" transceiver, which converts an electrical Ethernet signal to optical, is included, this powered by a supplied AC-to-USB-C adapter, and uses a short supplied SC optical interconnect. SM streamed MQA-encoded music from Tidal Connect using Roon, the "Stream-iFi" app, and the galvanically isolated Ethernet connection. "Something just felt 'right" about the sonic product MQA achieves," he wrote. Using both the iFi's own DACs and separate DACs driven by the NEO Stream's AES3 digital output, SM concluded that NEO Stream's sound quality was beyond reproach and its versatility was impressive. "It's particularly well-suited to those who are happy with their traditional hi-fi rigs and are looking to add state-of-the-art streaming to the mix." JA was impressed by the NEO Stream's measured performance, though he did note that the analog output's resolution is limited to 17–18 bits. (Vol.46 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: $21,900
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)

PS Audio PerfectWave DirectStream MK2: $7999
The same size as its well-regarded predecessor, the MK2 processor replaces the rectangular, four-color touchscreen with a smaller display with a Mute/Menu button to its left and a blue-illuminated five-button controller to its right. However, it still upsamples PCM data to 30-bit words, now sampled at 2× the original's 28.224MHz, and these still processed by a digital-domain volume control before being resampled to single-bit, quad-rate DSD and converted to analog with a low-pass filter. Though there is no Ethernet port, the MK2 has seven digital inputs: two AES3, optical and coaxial S/PDIF (one each), asynchronous USB Type B, and two I2S over HDMI. (The last two can be used with PS Audio PerfectWave transports.) Each digital input can be galvanically isolated to eliminate noise on shared grounds. There are unbalanced and balanced analog outputs. (The latter's XLR jacks don't have the usual locking mechanism; JA found that the weight of the AudioQuest interconnects he initially used kept pulling the plugs out.) Overall, JA enjoyed how the DirectStream MK2 played music, commenting that while its low frequencies don't have quite the drive he appreciates with the Benchmark and MBL processors, "it betters its predecessor in this respect and sounds more open in the highs." But he was bothered by the high levels of random noise in the MK2's output, this mostly ultrasonic but in-band, too, and some 20× higher than its predecessor's. In theory. this noise will compromise the processor's low-level resolution. While his auditioning did suggest that the DirectStream MK2's retrieval of recorded detail was not in the same class as the high-resolution overachievers that the magazine has reviewed, his enjoyment of the music didn't seem unduly impaired. (Vol.46 No.6 WWW)

Sonnet Audio Morpheus MKII: $3170
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)


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: $6999
The made-in-New Mexico Mystique X SE offers AES3, coaxial S/PDIF, and USB digital inputs, single-ended analog outputs, and features a pair of vintage 20-bit Analog Devices AD1862 ladder-DAC chips. The SE version that HR reviewed adds ultrafast, ultralow-noise, zero-recovery SiC Schottky rectification diodes, ups the capacitance of the four-pole Mundorf capacitors to 22,000µF, and employs a "massive" power supply with Lundahl amorphous-core chokes. HR liked what he heard: "The Mojo's extremely natural, easy-flowing sound trumped every inclination I had to do comparisons with some other digital source," he wrote, and complimented the Mystique's presentation of low-level detail: "The Mojo DAC made piano tones glow and whisper, how all the little quiet notes—ones I don't usually hear—got through, letting me enjoy their unique expressiveness and admire them individually." Overall, the Mystique X SE "produced a unique, sophisticated listening experience that presented digital recordings as beautiful, probing, and engaging." JA was less impressed with how the Mojo DAC measured. The Mystique's real-world resolution "was about 16 bits below 1kHz and 17 bits above about 4kHz," he wrote, and found that while low-level information was boosted in level, the background noise levels were both high and different in the two channels. He felt that the limited resolution and high positive linearity error at low levels were matters for concern, though he did note that these problems will be least audible with 16/44.1 data. In his own auditioning, JA also noted the enhancement of low-level detail but despite the disappointing measured behavior he didn't immediately notice anything questionable about the Mystique's sound quality with 16/44.1 USB data; the tonal balance was warm, and there was nothing fatiguing about the treble. Hi-rez audio didn't sound offer the expended improvement, however. He did find that the Mojo DAC formed a synergistic partnership with the Jay's Audio upsampling CD transport. (Vol.46 Nos.4 & 5 WWW)

Topping DM7: $599 $$$
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, absurdly 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)

Verity DAC, Gold Note DS-10 EVO, not reviewed in a long time.

Auditor's picture

The links to the various types of products seem to be missing.

Auditor's picture

They're there now!

Dorsia777's picture

Rotel & Michi nabbed some Class A recommendations. Nice!