New Dac, advice please

Hello, looking for a new DAC, price range here in Europe until 500,-- Euros.

Any recommendations, should fit a valve integrated amp (Audio Note UK).

Many thanks.

I’ll admit I’m biased, Chord is as close as I get to fan boy in audio but the Chord Mojo is in budget and is also semi-portable. I bought mine to serve as a portable device but mostly use it as my permanent office DAC. Most answers will reflect some bias I guess.

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Thanks, will the Mojo work with Allo DigiOne or RPi 4 endpoint?

Yes it will BUT it has one hink, it takes a 3.5mm SPDIF coax lead, and the Allo DigiOne has no USB or optical. The custom cable used to be expensive but they can be bought at reasonable (£20) prices now.

Ok, alternatives?

I’ve got the SMSL M500, 399,99 Euro at . I like it very much. It also can fully decode and render .mqa files. Roon is only able to decode and unfold two of the stages. but the M500 than unfold’s the third fold what roon can’t do.

Best regards - Detlef

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So I came back to post the SMSL SU-9 which was recommended on another thread and fits the bill well.

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I also am very pleased with my SMSL 500, which works well with my Pi Ropiee via USB.


I may be a little controversial here (and I’m sure the fan boys will be readying their flamethrowers), but well designed DACs sound the same given the limits of our hearing. If they’re audibly transparent, they won’t have a ‘sound’. Amplifiers next and then speakers have far higher levels of distortion and a speaker’s interaction with the room has an even greater effect on the sound.

Head over to ASR ( and read some of the DAC reviews. There are plenty of options around and below your price range with exceptional performance - SMSL, Topping, Gustard etc. Do you want RCA out/balanced out, MQA capable over USB/MQA over SP/DIF, headphone amp built in? Lots of options without breaking the bank.

I’ve heard lots of DACs. My current main setup is a Topping DX7 Pro - balanced output headphone amp is superb. Office setup is an SMSL Sanskrit 10th MKII. No audible difference between them.


Credit where it’s due, I was repeating Graeme’s recommendation here.

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sorry man, but I think I live at the other side. I can hear differences between components within my setup and in my listening room. it doesn‘t matter for me if the component is the best measured one or not. i have my taste and if a digital component makes me nervous after 1 hour hearing it, it will not stay in my listening room.

There is no such thing in the DAC world. Other than that… well said.

Yeah, a transparent DAC would be bits in, bits out!

How so? Feed a DAC with a set of test signals and the analogue out should reconstruct faithfully the test signal sent to it in the digital domain without audible non-linearities, noise or distortion. Any competently designed DAC can do that.

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I would tend to agree but you can sometimes hear a difference between DACs. I ‘upgraded’ my Topping D10 to a Topping E30 to get more inputs (and a better look!). I was not expecting any significant audible differences and initially did not bother trying to compare them. After listening for a while though I realized the E30 did sound different and quite a bit better than the D10 - only then did I do some A/B comparisons and it was clear there is a distinct sound difference which I could reliably identify and a very clear improvement with the E30 - listening through a JDS Atom and Sennheiser 660S headphones… Now the E30 does measure around 10db better Sinad (103 ->113) so could be audible in itself, but there is still an audible difference when listening to CDs, MP3s or listening though my Creative T40 spkrs. I suspect this is purely down to the ‘analog’ cricuitry in the E30 - the characteristic of the improvement is similar to that which you get when upgrading your amplifier.

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Test signals are not music. If all you listen to is test signals than, sure, you’d have yourself a very transparent DAC which was able to accurately reproduce the test signal. I don’t listen to test signals. In fact, some of the stuff I listen to is questionable music. But, that’s for a different discussion.

Sorry for getting off-topic. @erho, in that price range there are plenty of great DACs. The Chord stuff will probably sound more organic (dare I say musical) as that’s their sound signature. The SMSL and Topping stuff tends to review on the analytical side. It may depend on what kind of music you listen to. For real instruments, jazz and classical, a warmer more organic sound is usually preferred. Rock and EDM the analytical electronics sometimes comes across as faster with more punch; which some prefer. I like Schiit which I’ve not seen mentioned. The Modius is a balanced DAC well within your budget but may be hard to get int EU right now (backordered, like most of their stuff right now). I have not heard the Chord but, based on reviews, I’d probably like its sound signature over a Topping or SMSL. As you may have guessed I’m not a huge fan of the stuff which reviews towards the analytical. I did at one time but am starting to really appreciate an open and slightly warmer sound where decay can be left to float between instruments. I’ve even got tubes in my main my system now. And, in the end, hard to make these decisions without listening and that requires having a place to do such things or buying more than 1 DAC.

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They’re audio signals, in the same way that music is just audio signals. There’s nothing magical about music.

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At this point you lost me… Why would so many folks spend so much time listening to music, looking for new music, arguing about music, if it were not magical? It certainly has wrought magic in my own life…

Maybe we could agree upon that music’s magic isn’t dependent on technology at all… but sure it does make magic happen in our minds.

I’m talking from a physical, electronic perspective, not a metaphorical, emotional perspective.

There’s no magical difference as far as electronic components are concerned between audio test signals and music is the point I was making.

Some people prefer stuff to sound warm, or tube-like, or whatever. I prefer equipment to be accurate and neutral. Then when I connect my speakers, I know I’m hearing the speakers, not the source equipment affecting the speakers.

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I understood that well enough. Still, I’ll never get all you people arguing endlessly about technology, instead of letting music just happen, with whatever technology at your reach. And, by the way, the emotional perspective of music is very real. It nowadays can be observed and measured with technology, in the very moment it happens in our brains.