Budget DAC for second system

Morning all,

I was wondering if anyone could share their experiences of adding a relatively inexpensive DAC to their system.

In my main system I use a Mac Mini/Gustard spdif converter into a Chord Qutest. I have to say that this is the best source I have ever heard and punches well above its weight.

I have another Mac Mini and a second system which comprises of a NAC32/NAP110/HI-CAP into a pair of Q Acoustics Concept 20. This is going to be used quite a bit in my office, so I want to buy a half decent DAC for it.

I would rather not spend Chord money on it, but equally I want to get something that will do the amps justice. I was hoping to spend around £300-ish. I know that DACs have come on quite a bit over the last few years and there are so many out there, so a bit of advice based on experience would be greatly appreciated.

There has been a lot of talk about Audioquest Dragonfly / Cambridge Audio Dacmagic / Audiolab / ifi Zen etc. Are these adequate or do i need to stretch my budget a bit to get something better?

I should add that so many of these DACs are headphone amps too. I don’t need one. I just need the DAC part.

Many thanks!

Beresford make some good little DAC’s that are really simple and good value for money. You can probably pick one up of the bay for a really reasonable price. I used a TC-7520 (i think it was), but there is one called the caiman that is better. Really nice balanced sound. I never had anything to complain about with them.

I have a small Topping DAC that I like. They have models in your price range.


You can get Chord Mojo for sale new for around £350 - but I’ve no idea how it compares with other low cost DACs.

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Cambridge Audio have a good rep for dacs. I’m not sure what iteration they are up to now, but it would be worth checking.

How about a pre loved Rega DAC?


I bought a Topping E30 as a gift for a friend. I was amazed at its performance and ended buying another for myself. Just find a nice 5V source-some phone chargers might do! I am powering it off a cleanly powered server USB port with tremendous results. Bass and midrange are mind boggling for the little money it costs. I can well imagine it with the NAP110


Thanks everyone for the suggestions. I’ll have a look at all of the above including the Topping & Cambridge Audio. They sound ideal.

I did think about the Chord Mojo, but after having owned a Hugo, I’d rather not have a Dac that runs off batteries. I replaced them twice in the Hugo at a cost of around £90 a go, which is why I bit the bullet and went for the Qutest in the main system.

I highly recommend a Cambridge Audio DacMagic 100. I bought a mojo recently after hearing so many good things about it but sold it after less than a week as it didn’t come close the the detail and subtlety of the DacMagic. I also have an Audioquest Dragonfly Black, which works well with a phone and earphones but is just a toy compared the DacMagic in a proper system. I think they are about 150 quid, well worth it in my opinion.

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In last month have bought a MFidelity MX-Dac for my second system, got to say very impressed. Given it was launched at £700 and well received the current £500 makes it a bit of a bargain.

Huge soundstage, extended bottom end and very detailed top end.

Outside your target budget but thought worth mentioning.

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SMSL SU9 is a very good DAC for the price. Highly recommend one you’ll be surprised at how good it is.

Another vote for the Topping, or the SMSL.

Also worth looking at the Schiit (really!) range.

If you budget increases (whose doesn’t?) then the RME ADI-2 is great (~£800), or the Violectric (~£1800)

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Another vote for the RME ADI-2 (current AK4493 version).

Using it with my SN3 and it can really drive the input effectively. Few cheaper DACs are capable of this.

Yes had the fork out same amount for my chord mojo battery

Ifi Zen Dac DSD and MQA all for £129 USB only though but for the money an exceptional DAC.

I tried this against a Chord Mojo and the Zen stayed I use it in my main system albeit as a second source connected to my Auralic Aries Mini as it’s an improvement over the Aries own DAC.

Thanks again everyone. There are so many to choose from! I’m liking the look of the Ifi Zen and the Dacmagic at the moment.

I’ve just seen that the ifi Zen now comes in an improved Signature model now for around £250 and loses the headphone amp. Makes sense in my set up to give it a try. Interesting that the Zen could be preferable in sound to the Chord Mojo. I wasn’t expecting that!

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When I was looking for a DAC to stand with a Naim Core while I waited for the NDS replacement to come out (which turned out to be an ND555 and a bit dearer than expected) I tried a Rega DACr, finding it a little dull but not bad, then I tried a Chord 2qute, which was livelier and more detailed but too analytical. The next on my list was a Hugo but I paused at that point, it was only a temporary measure after all and would move up to the spare room where I had a Rega based system once the streamer arrived so I bought the Rega DAC. When I auditioned the DACs I was leant some Chord Shawline and Fairway cables but the cheapest was £100, there’d been mention on here that a Belden 4974R from Bluejeans was giving the Naim DC1 a run for its £400 but the Belden was only £20, double that by the time it had come over from the US and it was still worth a punt. I had to use a BNC to RCA adaptor at the Rega end but even so it showed up the two Chord offerings and the Rega DAC wasn’t sounding dull any more.
No idea how it performs via USB but with the the rather stiff Belden for SPdif it got more use than my CDX2/555ps for the next couple of years.


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