Hans said: It’s a chameleon of a digital-to-analog converter, lending no personality of its own to the signals it decodes, and going on to reproduce sound of not only exceedingly high resolution, but sound that is exceedingly musical. Its modest chassis conceals first-rate levels of performance, and I suspect it will hold its own against much more expensive components from the industry’s top names. Highly, highly recommended.
The gist: State-of-the-art DAC in a modest chassis.
Vade said: The DSPre did full justice to ARC’s reputation for superb sound, and did so without using tubes. It sounded fantastic, looked great, and was easy to use. Equally important, it would save space and money over separate components. If I didn’t need a separate DAC and line stage to pursue my reviewer’s craft, I’d gladly live with the ARC DSPre. Easily a Reviewers’ Choice.
The gist: An excellent DAC and preamp that happens to be in one box.
Doug said: The Audioengine D2 is not only one of the most innovative products I’ve reviewed in a long time, it’s also one of the best. The fact that it’s so affordably priced makes this game-changing DAC all that much easier to buy. Highly recommended for those who want excellent sound quality and the convenience of wireless transmission.
The gist: Yes, you can get great performance and wireless connectivity all in the same DAC.
Doug said: Another word that seems to describe the Femto’s sound is pure. All told, there was never anything objectionable about that sound, and its extreme resolution allowed me to simply hear more of what my recordings already contained. In fact, every piece of music I played through the Femto sounded better than it ever had before -- which is why I have to say that this is the best-sounding (and best-looking) DAC I’ve ever heard.
The gist: A $20,000 DAC for $6850.
Doug said: Calyx’s DAC 24/192 is a beautifully built, elegantly styled digital-to-analog converter that sounded exceedingly neutral and utterly clean in my system. It’s also capable of very high resolution that’s just shy of the very best -- I wouldn’t hesitate to partner it with some of the finest equipment out there, regardless of price.
The gist: Maybe the DAC to match your Mac Mini.
Vince said: For only $650 you get a digital preamp, a headphone amp, and a truly excellent DAC -- and being able to listen to 24-bit/192kHz tracks through the DacMagic Plus was a mesmerizing experience. If you’re looking for a DAC, even if only to add a USB connection to your system, it would be worth your while to check out the Swiss Army Knife of DACs: the Azur DacMagic Plus. It may get you thinking up new ways to configure your audio system and listen to music -- always a good thing.
The gist: Heck-of-a-value DAC with tons of flexibility.
Vince said: The Stream Magic 6 occupies a unique position in the audio world in being three components in one: a DAC, a streamer, and a digital preamp. Usually, when a component is designed to do so much, it falls flat on its face by not doing anything particularly well. Not so the Stream Magic 6 -- it fulfills its promise as a high-quality DAC, a high-quality digital preamp, and a high-quality streamer by sounding phenomenal in all three functions.
The gist: Jack-of-all-trades and master of many.
Philip said: If you’ve got the money to even consider buying the HD20, you should do just that: consider it. Its simple, unassuming appearance conceals a veritable tour de force of DAC design whose unerring musicality may elevate the sound of your system.
The gist: There's something about that Hegel sound . . .
Thom said: Do I like the Music Streamer II+? Let’s put it this way: I dare anyone to try to pry it from my system. For me, it’s a nearly perfect audio component: It’s unobtrusive, it offers high performance, it can play digital resolutions up to 24-bit/96kHz, and it’s a steal of a deal at $350.
The gist: Streaming 24/96 for a song.
Uday said: When a SoundStage! Hi-Fi reviewer evaluates an exceptional component, it receives the accolade of Reviewers’ Choice. I love the Meitner MA-1 so much that I’m putting my money down and making it my choice for my new digital reference.
The gist: Awesome DAC from a certified digital guru.
Hans said: The M1DAC offers a compelling amalgam of connectivity, technical performance, and musicality. A multitude of D/A converters are available for less than $1000, and while many of them are adept, the pedigree and dulcet nature behind the M1DAC’s faceplate make it a worthy contender for the budget conscious.
The gist: Another nice DAC among the multitudes.
S. Andrea said: What the Masters M51 offers is a sound that’s smooth, laid-back, and always pleasant, no matter what you throw at it. Its slight favoring of the midrange imbues the sound with just a hint of extra warmth. For many listeners, such a combination is a recipe for audio bliss.
The gist: Unique sound that some, if not all, will find just right.
Graham said: The NuForce DAC-9 is one of those all-too-infrequent products that is a true giant-killer, and whose performance must have put a collective smile on the faces of those who designed and built it. At its full retail price of $1695, I think NuForce offers consumers a stonking good deal.
The gist: A great DAC need not cost five grand.
Vince said: I highly recommend the NuForce uDAC-2 as a travelling companion for you and your laptop -- it will give hours of pleasant headphone listening, and, in a pinch, will also serve as a smooth-sounding D/A converter, albeit with limitations in terms of resolution and detail retrieval. I found its overall sound quality to be satisfying and nonfatiguing. And the fact that the uDAC-2 is USB-powered and fits in the palm of the hand makes it ideal for music on the go.
The gist: Shouldn’t every audiophile have one?
S. Andrea said: The result is a sound that is very clean and hi-rez without ever feeling forced. More than any of its other virtues, it is this smooth, relaxed character that sets the Invicta apart from its competition, and that I believe will win it a large following.
The gist: DAC with adjustable sound and a good built-in headphone amp.
Doug said: What sets the 650D apart isn’t so much its build quality or features (though those are very good) as its distinctive sound, which is like nothing else I’ve heard. The 650D was able to resolve the finest details -- it’s hyper-revealing -- with the most musical and nonfatiguing sound I’ve heard from any digital source. The 650D’s soul is as analog as it is digital.
The gist: A modern digital reference.
Hans said: The UD-H01’s sound quality is commensurate with its price. And when you consider that it also offers an asynchronous USB input, XLR outputs, and a headphone amplifier, and that its Swiss Army Knife flexibility makes it suitable for a wide variety of applications, the overall package becomes much more compelling. The UD-H01 could prove to be a product that will grow along with listeners as their listening habits evolve. In that sense, it’s an ideal gateway product to high-fidelity audio.
The gist: Pretty good DAC for the money.
Vade said: A Reviewers’ Choice award for the Aurender is a no-brainer, but I think it deserves to be a Recommended Reference Component. In my view, the Aurender S10 advances the state of the digital art.
The gist: Best of breed.
Vade said: Wyred 4 Sound continues its tradition of bringing the latest technology to market at extremely reasonable prices. I wouldn’t call their products cheap, but their value-to-dollar ratio is off the scale. The MS-1 music server sounded superb, was user-friendly, and wouldn’t look out of place in the priciest audio system -- which pretty much checks all the boxes on my list.
The gist: High-value all-around-good music server.