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(yet another guy...) looking for a DAC under $300


Major Contributor
Jan 27, 2020
Suffolk Coastal, UK
I have here two old CD players, a heavy and circuit-complex Denon DCD 1520 (I love the transport operation and it still tracks ok) and a later very much simpler DCD 1015 with a slightly crabby mechanism that doesn't like being stored on one side for some reason. Both 'sound' identical from their fixed analogue RCA outputs and both make good transports. I remember the latter cheaper machine from my retail days and it always sounded pretty 'honest' I thought and a now retired mastering engineer pal uses one to this day. As with the Rotel machine from twenty years ago (I knew one or two Rotels from that era and again believe them to have a pretty 'truthful' sonic quality, differences being more construction and resulting selling price I recall), I doubt the latest dacs from the likes of Schiit and Topping will be 'bells and whistles' better 'sounding' than these old timers (I thought I could tell a difference but it was unmatched levels in a comparison*) but maybe superior linearity and acceptance of higher sampling rates etc. may well swing it, at least academically.

* I can't shout loudly enough how easily our ears and minds are fooled in comparative dems. many audio hobbyists in the first few years of 'discovery' seem to hear *massive improvements* and *massive differences* in any change they make, as I did nearly half a century ago now. When one gains experience and discovers what *really* makes a difference (speaker/room interface being the most important these days I'd suggest), the rest becomes as gaslight in comparison. There's one forum I know full of decent friendly folk that I just can't post in any longer as the regulars are hearing 'huge differences' in things that I just don't think matter any more and old sourpuss here just lowers the enthusiastic mood... A bad room-speaker choice totally kills it for me and NOTHING can really fix it, as I gather DSP if overused is almost worse than none at all.


Major Contributor
Forum Donor
Dec 30, 2020
If you want something simple--no remote, no screen to go bad, no software management, no balanced connections, that provides inputs from coax, optical, and USB, then look at a Musical Fidelity V.90 DAC. These do not provide the very best measurements, but they are effectively transparent with a SINAD over 100 DB. More to the point, they are functionally simple and reliable. Switching between coax, optical, and USB inputs is a physical and commonly available three-position rocker switch on the front panel.

You won't be able to tell the difference between the analog output of your CD player and audio from an external DAC, unless something is either broken or specifically designed to not be transparent. At least I can't with any of my CD players that have coaxial digital output as an option. If you think you hear a difference, you are probably really hearing your own expectations.

I've used a range of DACs, but the Musical Fidelity seems to me the most robust if you want something to buy and forget. It looks nice, too.

Rick "fits the budget, too" Denney


Addicted to Fun and Learning
Feb 11, 2021
I think the Liquid Spark DAC is no longer available...probably a chip issue. I was kind of interested in that one. Still happy for now with my Modi 3 from Schiit, don't really need higher than 24/192 for the time being. It's very simple to use, robust and sounds good. The 3+ adds the different USB processing but that wasn't enough of a reason for me to upgrade....
Audiophonics still lists the Liquid Spark DAC in stock
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