Before getting into the recommendations, I would suggest reading my article about DACS and the importance they have in your sound system.
Rockna Wavedream DAC
The new Wavedream Balanced Platinum from Rockna was an extremely pleasant surprise as it is in the same league with MSB Analog Dac sound quality wise.
I have put it in the head of my list because even if in the same price category with MSB Analog Dac and has similar sound performance, it also has all the inputs you need by default and it comes in balanced configuration with 4 DACS.
Considering the above, this DAC earns my true and honest recommendation.
MSB Analog DAC
More than one year ago, I thought that I reached a point with Burson Conductor from where I would have to pay thousands of dollars for very small differences. Why did I reach that conclusion? Well…I have listened to some very expensive dacs compared to Burson Conductor and while they were better I wouldn’t have spent that much money for that small difference. I was comfortable and happy with that thought.
My theory was blown away by MSB Analog Dac. I took it home for a review, but I was very skeptical. When I started listening to it I was completely stunned. I didn’t think such difference is possible and I couldn’t have imagined it until I heard it. The difference between Burson Conductor and MSB Analog Dac was bigger than the difference from Burson Conductor and FiiO E17!!
I was amazed with all the details the Analog DAC got out my well known music, details I have never heard before with other DACS. And the sound is extremely natural and everything flows with harmony and without effort. Nothing is brought more forward that it should be or in an unnatural way.
The sound opens up, the instrument separation and imaging rise more than I could have imagined. The soundstage is very wide, deep and incredibly holographic. The instruments have an incredible extension, detail and presence as the voices are so natural, so well textured that you get to feel like you know the singer at the end of the song. I have never heard such deep and full bass with excellent control and energy as with Analog DAC.
I found everything about this DAC incredibly good!
I’ve put it on second place because of the price, not because I like Wavedream more sound quality wise. If you would want to get more inputs for Analog Dac you would have to go over 10k, while Wavedream already has all the inputs necessary and fully balanced outputs.
Even though this is an old case of 380D, rest assured as it was fully upgraded inside to the Neo DSD.
This is one of the most musical DACs I have ever listened too. Simaudio managed to achieve a very interesting balance where it offers a very musical presentation to the sound, but keeping good transparency, details, soundstage, etc.
The mids on this DAC are just amazing. All the instruments and voices are very euphonic, especially the percussion instruments. They really manage to tickle your ears to the point that you get goosebumps.
Read the whole review here.
Arcam FMJ D33
I’ve enjoyed writing this review as D33‘s performance was refreshing and very impressive. While it was great with all the music genres I’ve tested it with, I just loved classical and instrumental music with D33.
This DAC is definetely one of the best DACS that I had the pleasure of reviewing. Its performance, versatility and possibility of sound variations because of the filters, makes it easy for me to place this product really high on my recommendation list.
Read the whole review here.
Even if it comes in a very small package, I cannot stress enough on how good it sounds.
This small but wonderful DAC became a reference for me and I must congratulate Chord Electronics on this excellent new product.
If I would make a DAC recommendation list based on price/performance ratio, Hugo would be in the top of the list for sure!
Read my full review here.
This unit is actually my favorite all in one box for the moment. It has an excellent DAC, almost Hugo like performance, but better amplifier.
Is’s an amazing match for HD800 and with it I even liked it more than on Burson Conductor’s amplifier.
Trust me when I’m saying that the Black Dragon deserves all your attention!
Read full review here…
iFi Micro iDSD was a really nice surprise. I never expected this quality at that price. I didn’t feel like I was listening to a portable unit at all. I felt like listening to a full blown desktop rig. Actually, I think it might beat a lot of more expensive and bigger desktop rigs.
I found both DAC/Headphone amplifier sections to be very good and to offer quality well above their price.
Read full review here.
Simaudio Moon Evolution 650D
While not at Analog Dac’s level I liked this dac very much as it took me through a wonderful listening experience.
These 2 are in a similar price range, but don’t forget that the Moon 650D is a CD Transport as well and has all the inputs / outputs you need by default, as with MSB you have to pay 1000$ for any additional input you want. The moon is also fully balanced.
Overall it is a good 2 in one unit with a very good DAC that offers deep, extended bass, very good mids, well extended treble, very good details and micro details, fast transients and good with vocals.
Moon 300D V2
This little dac has some stamina and really got my attention. I found that it’s default usb implementation is quite good.
While not in the same league as it’s bigger brother it still offers a very good soundstage and a holographic and airy presentation with very good instrument separation and layering, details and dynamics.
The size and performance of this unit made it a very appealing product from my perspective.
While some say that Conductor’s DAC is not so good, I must say that I like it very much and I found it to be very good for it’s price. The problem with Conductor is with it’s usb interface which is mediocre. With a good usb interface you can bring Conductor’s Dac to another level.
I find it to have a musical and energetic presentation with very good transients including exploding attack and fast decays. The bass is fast and punchy with good depth. The midrange is very present and detailed and the treble very well extended.
I also liked the other DAC implementation from Burson which had a different but very pleasant sound.
The X5 is the best product from FiiO at this moment. It is a very big step up from the X3, making it’s way into the enthusiast’s department.
Read my full review here.
I love this little and sturdy box. It gives an excellent sound for it’s price. It offers an articulated and well rounded & energetic sound in both ends of the spectrum. Remember that it’s sound quality could improve with a better usb cable like Chord USB Silver Plus.
When I first saw this little guy, I thought it was just a memory stick. It really impressed me when I realized what it was capable of at that size. While it doesn’t offer the best amplification, dac wise dragonfly really manages to stand out of the crowd. So, it could be an excellent choice for IEMS and some very easy to drive headphones.
FiiO X3 and FiiO E17
FiiO offers excellent quality for the price. I found the X3 and E17 to be very similar dac wise. I don’t think there is somebody out there offering this performance at that price. Both of them offer a warm and engaging sound with good and deep bass, natural and well textured voices, good PRAT, attack and sweet mids.
They are both my first recommendation for portability and as a wonderful intro into this hobby.