Streaming DAC < $10,000, PCM

I’m looking for a very good streaming DAC –

  • Roon Ready
  • Ideally, price < $10,000
  • Ethernet-in/Analog-Out - minimal other digital inputs
  • Roon streams directly to the Dac, without needing HQPlayer/etc for good sound
  • Focus on PCM, and support MQA now/soon. (All of my music is either redbook aiff or Tidal; I don’t have any real investment in hd tracks, DSD, etc)
  • Mainstream/established manufacturer that will provide ongoing upgrades or repairs into the next years (it’s a big investment)
  • It would be great if the DAC didn’t provide USB - USB is hard to do well, and I could avoid paying for that. (May be unrealistic, but it’s wish-list.)

There’s a few products I’ve seen that roughly target this, more or less —

  • Ayre QX-5
    -> I’ve heard this one - it sounds good to me, although I don’t know how this compares with its competitors. Can I do better?
    The QX-5 spends a lot of $$ on “digital hub” inputs that I really don’t need/want (eg see darko video with a walkthrough of the internals) - internally, a lot of this unit is composed of power stages etc devoted to all these different input types, rather than simply (a) great power supply, (b) great rendering, © great D->A, (d) great output stage.

  • Lumen S1, etc
    -> Do these sound good? Internal design looks really clean, separate power supply, few inputs. I’d love to hear more about these - these forums seem fairly quiet about Lumen. (I’ve also read that they’re best for DSD?) Are these dated?

  • Merging NADAC
    -> Gets good reviews although it reportedly is best for DSD. Also, it costs more than $10k.

  • Linn DS products, e.g. Accurate DS.
    -> These don’t support Roon, so unfortunately wouldn’t work.

  • Auralic Vega G2 -
    -> I think they’re adding ethernet to the next Vega, but I’m don’t know if this would really compete with the others here?

  • Brinkmann Nyquist
    -> I’m not sure these are available, and they’re a little out of my price range. Still, interesting in hearing any impressions.

  • Bricasti M1 + internal network bridge (ala M5)
    -> These stretch the price range too, but could work. I’ve heard mixed reviews a from local dealer but see very enthusiastic owners online. Are these dated?

  • Mytek? (manhattan, brooklyn, etc)
    -> I’ve been told these won’t compete, but really have no experience with them.

  • PS Audio directstream, etc (with bridge)
    -> I’ve been told that these, too, won’t compare with the better dacs at the high-end - but again, I don’t know. However, they’re really DSD-focused.

  • totalDac with server, etc - out of my price range, and it’s awkward dealing with a tiny company/individual on another continent…

  • dcs Rossini - also out of my price range

… other?

I could get a streamer and separate DAC if necessary (using microRendu or dcs bridge, etc), but I’d prefer to get a single solution if possible.

Can you provide some feedback on the alternatives above, and let me know if I should be considering something else?

I’m particularly interested in hearing some comparative/listening opinions from people that have heard more than one of these. It’s really hard to find/hear these, and just compare in-person.

I realize that this is similar to a couple of other threads. Sorry about that - I’ve read those too, I think my requirements are a little different & more specific, but there’s definitely overlap too…


  • jim

I really like my PS Audio DirectStream DAC. I love the Roon integration and the SQ. I think it’s a pretty great DAC. To be honest I have not really heard the others however I am a huge Ayre fan as I have the AX-5 Integrated. For me that would be choice #2 on this list.

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I own both a PS Audio Direcstream DAC and Directstream Jr. Both have a Bridge II card (Jr comes with); and I have to say I am more then pleased with both of them. The non-Jr DS is part of my main system. Jr is used in an ‘office’ system.

While the DS handles input internally as DSD, I wouldn’t say it’s explicitly meant for DSD input. I have 1 DSD file that I bought as an experiment. The rest of my 2000+ albums (mostly Classical) are either FLAC or ALAC (in the process of converting off of iTunes). The FLAC files are either ripped from CDs (dbPoweramp) or bought as such from various download sites.

The DS replaced an Auralic Ares/Vega combo (and I have read of a new Vega that will essentially combine both functions is a single box). To me, the DS runs rings around the Vega. That’s the only direct comparison I can give. Haven’t listened to any of the other units on your list.

The latest firmware release for the DS (called ‘Huron’) dramatically changed the SQ of the DS; at least to my ears. The previous FW wasn’t bad (better than the Vega); but this new FW is so much better.

The Bridge FW will be updated sometime this month. One of its features is MQA support. My understanding is the Roon does the 1st MQA ‘unfolding’, the Bridge FW will do the 2nd.

The integration between Roon and the DS/Bridge is pretty good. The DS has a display screen that shows album art, title of track playing, and elapsed time of the track playing. How important that is is personal. My unit sits in a rack that’s not close to my listening chair, so not as useful as my iPad in my hand as the remote.

My penny’s worth.

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For that price, you probably want the on your shortlist. A very good Sabre DAC implementation apparently.

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+1 on the exaSound e32 and PlayPoint. I couldn’t be happier with mine.

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I have the PS Audio DSD Snr and use the Bridge. Before the latest software update I wouldn’t have raved about it (was good though). Since the update I am happy to play it over my CDP (Accuphase). Definitely not focused on DSD as it does redbook very well. Will be MQA compatible in a few days so that is a bonus.
At the end of the day it is like any other hifi component in that it is best to hear one before buying (especially at the price point you are looking at) as everyone’s tastes are different.

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You can have the totaldac d1-core with streamer card for less than 6000€ (5700€). It’s in your budget. I’ve au auralic Aries Full and a Vega. For my ears, d1-core is superior (bass, image, texture …)

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Thanks everyone for this input.

I’m surprised no one has recommended the Ayre QX-5 or the Lumen S-1.

For the totalDac d1-server … I always price the d1-tube-mk2, which ends up costing 2-3X more with a server/streamer. I should stop doing that - although many of the totalDac reviews/praises are for the more expensive versions. I’m reluctant to order from a small shop abroad, though I know these are very well-regarded. (I have similar resistance to the Lampizator DACs.)

Joel & orgel (or others) - regarding the exasound32 bundle, have you been able to compare this with any of the other units in this thread?

Also - regarding ther exaSound playpoint - for best performance, does Roon recommend that the library management and rendering are on separate systems? The PlayPoint unit seems to be a step back there, compared with separate Roon servers and RAAT/Roon-ready endpoints. Am I misunderstanding?

I have the Exasound duo. I’m not sure what you mean by the PP takes a step back. The PP gives you the option of running full Roon or just being a Roon endpoint. In my case, I have Roon core running on a SonicTransport i5 and I just use the PP as an endpoint interface to the x32. I haven’t tried using the PP as the Roon Core, so I can’t say if there is any audio difference but it is unlikely. I have used the SonicTransport as a Roon Core and to feed a DAC via USB and didn’t hear any difference.

I have the dCS and the PS Audio DSD Sr but I use them in different systems, so I can’t say that I’ve done a rigorous A:B:C test. I did do a bake off against a number of $10K+ DACs incl Briscati, Berkley, etc before buying the dCS and would say the dCS is at the top of that heap by a clear margin. I love my PS Audio and would rank that over the group of Sabre DACs like Exasound, W4S, and Benchmark that I have. I also have a Chord Dave which I use with a microRendu for streaming Roon and would say it’s a tad above the PSA, so my second fave. It can be had for under $10K currently but you’d have to add something like the microRendu for Roon.

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Cary DMS-500

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$10500 for stereo model. if your budget is 10k, it can be thought of as a rounding error :slight_smile:

I’ve been using it for PCM mostly, and it is spectacular… DSD is what these guys know best, but that doesn’t mean their PCM support is sub-par.

At the $10k budget, you should make it a point to listen to it with detail.

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Devialet also has some good solutions <$10k as well, plus you get amplification… their new AIR support in Roon is really nice, and hopefully it wont be too long until they are proper Roon Ready (just get a Expert Pro and not an older Expert model).

They have a huge benefit that their products look spectacular, simple, and are totally wife friendly (at least in my house, my wife is the boss when it comes to visual aesthetic).

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Most of us are in that boat… to one degree or another… well at least I share the same aesthetics as mine so it’s easy.

The Devialet definitely ticks that box. Wall mounted, there’s nothing that can come close IMO. But this is about sound quality I guess - minor detail! :smile:

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in that regard, the Experts are no slouches!


Option for streamer card inside the d1-tube is 1000€ more. You do not need the full server and reclocker to use it as roon end point. You have review in 6moons on the d1-core, the first model.

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Lots of great information here, thanks.

I’m pretty commited to tube amplification, so not as oriented to toward an all-in-one like the Devialet Expert Pro. Also I just want the streamer/DAC separate from my amp, for flexibility.

Danny - can you make any comments re: how the Merging NADAC sounds compared to some of these other units? (I have read reviews but they tend to make relatively few real comparisons.)

It’s good to hear the support for the DirectStream & Jr throughout. I see they’re adding MQA to the Bridge II also.

I did think about a Chord Dave but a decent streamer would bump that price significantly. And - while it’s not really a fair appraisal - the build quality of something like the Lumen S1 seems much better than the Dave. I fear that the dave will be a littly quirky. Does Chord have good customer support in terms of product (hardware) upgrades and firmware updates?

I just missed a chance to get a Bricasti M1 v2 at a good price. It’s network card is supposed to sound very good.

Unfortunately, it’s really hard to hear/compare all this stuff in practice.

My favorite local store (SF East Bay) just carries Ayre, dCS, and BerkeleyAudioDesigns. For my requirements, that mostly distills down to just the Ayre QX-5 - and I’m not able to listen/compare any of these other competitors to it. I like the QX-5, but I’m not getting the impression that it’s necessarily the best option overall (eg vs NADAC, just for one example).

There’s a hifi superstore in the city (SF) that has a number of the other brands here - but it’s run like a walmart, and only schedules narrowly defined listening sessions under duress (and doesn’t carry Ayre).

So - assuming I don’t get an Ayre QX-5 or a BADA2 (plus streamer - dCS Bridge or microRendu, etc) locally, I’m going to be flying blind a litte. Hence this thread…

@brian has most of these devices and more at his home (we live with all the gear so it never breaks!)

He’d be better at telling you what he likes… I know he’s a fan of the dCS Rossini and the NADAC. I think he doesn’t have a Chord Dave. I know @robdarling loves the TotalDAC. Brian had it for a while too and was a huge fan.

I can only compare the NADACPLAYER which I use primarily at the office against my Meridian system at home (non-SE DSP7200). The NADACPLAYER has become my new personal reference best. The sound in my opinion is not only unmatched, but brings back feelings of musical joy from my teenage years… not an easy emotion to replicate.

Before I get all mushy and sound like a crazy audiophile, if it’s worth anything, you have my endorsement to check it out. You won’t be wasting your time.

I’m pretty sure @brian will back that endorsement.

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I wasn’t able to do A–B comparisons in my system, but when I was making my purchase decision (which took a long time), I did try to spend extended periods of time listening to other DACs. I’ve pretty much come to the conclusion that, within the parameters of what I’m willing to spend, I really like the way well-implemented ESS-based DACs sound. During the course of my listening, the only DAC that sounded noticeably better to me than the exaSound e32 (again, anywhere close to my budget) was the Resonessence Mirus Pro, but in the end I decided it was a bit more than I was willing to spend.

Roon does recommend that Roon core run on one machine and then rendering/playback be via a separate network endpoint (though of course that’s not necessary). The PlayPoint is a bit unusual in that it can be configured either as a Roon server or as a RoonReady network endpoint. I use it as the latter, and I can’t stress enough how well designed I think the PlayPoint is. Compared with, say, a Sonore endpoint, the PP is much easier to configure — everything (including firmware updates) can be easily done from its front panel, and there’s no need to manually reconfigure if, for example, you want to switch from using it as a RoonReady endpoint to an HQPlayer NAA. The PP just senses what’s being sent to it and reconfigures itself accordingly.

(I’m guessing that the e32 + PlayPoint isn’t as good as Merging Player, but it’s not in the same price range either.)

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A couple of followups-

I saw an internal cutout of the Chord Dave, and it doesn’t bear out my concerns above about build quality. Eg the power supply is very carefully isolated within the chassis, just like the Lumen S1.

One repeated concern I have when I read reviews of the Chord Dave and the Merging NADAC - the reviewers will claim the unit’s sound falls apart with basic power cables and ethernet cables, and only come together with a $2000 power cable and $600-800 ethernet cable(s).

This gives me 3 concerns:
(a) that they’re nuts - just ridiculous/over-enthusiastic, which would be fine; (I suspect/hope this is the case)
(b) that they’re not nuts - that the units really don’t sound good with basic cabling, and require isolation/handholding via high end cables etc - which would be a problem; (I don’t mind decent audiophile-quality cables, but these $x-thousand cabling requirements would be really extreme)
© also, at the high end of this price range, i simply couldn’t afford to invest another $2000+ in cables, green paint and magic dust. I want something that “just works”, with really good power supply and noise isolation, etc, built-in.

As I mentioned the NADAC reviews really focus on DSD…Danny, I’m glad to hear that you have substantial experience feeding PCM to the NADAC. (That’s what you meant, right? Ie, you’re not using HQPlayer to convert PCM to DSD.) Can you tell me whether your NADAC is hooked-up with relatively modest cabling (or at least sounds excellent that way)? (Or did you need a $2000 power-cable, $600 ethernet cables, etc, too?)

It’s interesting to hear that the totalDac d1-tube-mk2 is available with an internal/1-box server. I didn’t see that as an option or on their main price-list. I’m inquiring about that now.

Has anyone compared the NADAC, totalDac, and/or Chord Dave directly? (Ideally the first two with their internet / RoonReady ethernet options, vs the Dave with something like microRendu.)

(I haven’t given up on the exasound combo or PS Audio either, it will depend on final budgeting…)

First, keep in mind, we have relationships with most/all of these companies, so we have to be a bit careful comparing devices…

That’s a pretty solid list. I would happily use any of these in the most demanding listening situations. They are different, but all excellent products.

Though I’ve had contact with most them, I’ve not spent a lot of time with every one of them…if I don’t mention something it’s because I haven’t spent enough time with it to form confident opinions.

I’m going to describe several products as “opinionated”. This is just a comment, not a postiive/negative assessment–Roon itself is quite opinionated–and we have plenty of users who love and hate our choices–It just means that you should try to listen for yourself and decide whether you agree with their opinions or not.

The exaSound PP+DAC and NADAC are both very well-executed implementations of flagship ESS DAC chips. Both extract about as much as you could expect to from ESS’s excellent DAC chips. To my ears, both products sound very similar. Personally I like this sound a lot–it has a very “reference” or “studio” quality to it. Because these are designs with no discrete DSP ahead of the DAC chip, they are good candidates for pairing with software-based upsampling–but that is not required to get a good sound out of them by any means.

The Ayre QX-5 is also a very well-executed ESS-based product–but in addition you are using their upsampling filters, which they’ve put considerable effort into. The opinions of this product are judicious and measured, and the end result is very pleasing. BTW, I wouldn’t consider the “digital hub” marketing as a negative. There is nothing fundamentally extraneous there compared to several other products on your list.

The TotalDAC is like a Ferrari from outer space. An incredible performer with strong opinions. It doesn’t sound like anything else on Earth. It really blew me away the first time I heard it. I can totally see why some people fall in love. One ergonomic point with this one–you can’t control the volume from Roon because of architectural limitations in the DAC. Maybe that matters to you, maybe not–depends whether you like to use the DAC as a primary volume control. Personally, I can’t live with a product for very long unless Roon can control the volume :slight_smile:

The PS Audio DirectStream also really impressed me on first listening. It has a very organic sound, and I can see why it has a reputation for converting die-hard vinyl guys to digital and such a strong following in general. Like TotalDAC the sound is totally its own.

The dCS Rossini…At first listening, it did not make a strong impression. It demanded a lot from the rest of the system–I revisited it after sorting out some other details relating to speaker placement and room correction, and over time I came to appreciate how dCS commands their incredible price points. It is very accurate, detailed and refined.

As for cables…

I would not buy a premium cable unless the person selling it to me could:

  • Explain the mechanism of improvement + show me the technical measurements that go along with it
  • Let me take it home so I could arrange a blind ABX test without someone who has a vested interest in the sale in the room.

It’s not that premium cables can’t bring value, it’s that market forces are not aligned to ensure that they do. Cables are extremely high-margin items for everyone involved. Reviewers can’t reasonably ignore them, both because they are important to the industry, and saying “cables don’t make a difference” is tantamount to admitting you don’t have ears that can discern the difference. No-one’s going to do it.

If you like how a cable sounds to you, buy it, but at the same time, don’t let someone talk you into thousands of dollars in cables unless you’re sure the improvement is going to be worthwhile for you.