I do not know exactly how many DACs I’ve reviewed over the years, but the number is in three figure territory. And when I say reviewed, this means I’ve spent a minimum of weeks, most often months, in some cases years, with each and every one, listening and comparing. [footnote 1]
The entire point of sharing lists like these is twofold: Of greatest importance, I am showing my hand, if you will, and offering a shortcut view into my preferences. This kind of information is invaluable for readers because it puts all of my reviews in a more meaningful context.
The secondary reason is people love lists — like shopping lists — and I am of the opinion that the following list contains DACs that are all capable of providing deep musical satisfaction and they stand out in this regard from all of the DACs I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know.
Twittering Machines Favorite DACs [updated 6.30.2021]
Helm Audio Bolt DAC ($99.99)
In my recent dongle DAC survey, I compared 5 DACs from 4 manufacturers and the Helm Bolt was a price/performance favorite. Since my review, I’ve been putting the Bolt through more musical paces and just like a good pair of boots, it gets better with time.
THX Onyx Portable DAC ($199.99)
From my review: “If you have around $200 to spend on a portable dongle DAC, your money is very well spent on the THX Onyx, no ifs, ands, or buts.”
AudioQuest DragonFly Cobalt ($299.95)
To my ears, the AQ DragonFly Cobalt remains at the top of the dongle DAC heap. Like the Bolt, its great for on-the-go or sitting in a system. The Cobalt is my regular desktop driver for the ADAM A3X active speakers.
Chord Mojo ($499)
Here’s what I said in my Mojo review — if your budget for [a portable DAC/Headphone Amplifier] lives somewhere in the neighborhood of $500, and by neighborhood think of $500 as the pin on a par 5 hole and you are teeing off in total darkness, buy a mighty Mojo and live happily ever after.
Denafrips ARES II ($780)
Why beat around the proverbial bush? The Denafrips ARES II is my favorite DAC anywhere near its price. I could live with the ARES II as my only DAC. Easily. Happily…That the Denafrips ARES II delivers all of this goodness for $780, seven hundred and eighty smackers!, is cause for celebration. Bravo! (review)
Denafrips PONTUS II ($1700)
Sonnet Digital Audio Morpheus DAC ($3,399.00)
When coupled with the Denafrips IRIS DDC (review) using I2S out and in, the Morpheus impressed well beyond its price. “…the Sonnet Morpheus DAC is very skilled at representing music in about as a full a voice as I’ve heard from digital replay.” (review)
HoloAudio KTE May DAC ($4999.99)
The two-chassis KTE May DAC from HoloAudio was built to be a statement DAC and what a statement it makes. From my review — With the Holo Audio KTE May DAC we have a digital to analog converter that pulls off that rare feat of turning data into music without imposing the fingerprints of the process, which is all too commonly found with most DACs. That it does so at this level of sophistication at its price is remarkable.
totaldac d1-tube DAC/Streamer (7320euro ex VAT or roughly US$8600)
Vincent Brient’s latest lower-priced d1-tube DAC/Streamer came in for review and I just couldn’t say goodbye. It remains my main Barn DAC sqeeeze.
Weiss DAC501 ($8995)
Daniel Weiss was recently honored with a Technical Grammy Award for his work in digital engineering. You can think of his DAC501, which I reviewed and loved, as a way for all of us to share in his achievement. The DAC501 houses a streamer and some very useful DSP (Digital Signal Processing) including a Room EQ plugin to help compensate for the fact that there’s no such thing as a perfect room.
totaldac d1-tube MK2 (9100euro ex VAT or roughly $10,800)
The totaldac sweet spot.
dCS Rossini ($23,999)
Oh là là! According to my experience, if you want to settle down with just one DAC and focus on the riches to be found in recorded music, cost no object, dCS has the DAC for you.
- These days, the amount of time spent listening is a necessary distinction to point out since there are reviewers who call listening to something for minutes a review, which is like spending minutes talking to a stranger on the phone and calling it a relationship.