Vince said: The ADL Esprit is best suited for use in a computer desktop system, and excelled in that role. In fact, when it was hooked up to my computer, I was never so excited to get to work, knowing that I had a great music system to listen to through my headphones. As your system grows, you can pair the Esprit with a power amp for a killer budget two-channel rig.
The gist: Could form the heart of a small, but high-quality system.
Jeff said: The Arcam rBlink is a great little product that doesn’t ask much of its owner. It’s more about expanding your musical enjoyment than causing hassle. I wish that could be said of all high-end audio.
The gist: Stream everything to your stereo.
Price: $149, one Sender, one Receiver; $89, each additional Receiver
Doug said: Honest-to-goodness, CD-quality, wireless sound for $149. No interference problems, even in the dense RFI soup of a large apartment complex. Ultrasimple setup -- just plug in the W3 Sender and Receiver and you’re ready to move your music anywhere you need it within a reasonable range. In fact, you can send your music to up to three W3 Receivers simultaneously. Simple, inexpensive, functional -- both thumbs way up.
The gist: Wireless DAC that has no drawbacks at the price.
Doug said: The AudioQuest DragonFly is a high-bang-for-the-buck Reviewers’ Choice, and an easy recommendation for anyone on a tight budget who’s looking to move computer-based music playback to the next level.
The gist: Don’t let the size and price fool you -- this is a great little DAC.
Sathyan said: Supplemented with a high-quality USB DAC and an iOS (or, soon, Android) device for queue management, Autonomic Control’s Mirage MMS•5A can handily beat a computer in ease of use and reliability for local playback. Its user interface and library-management facilities are excellent for file-based audio. As delivered, however, I feel it overpromises and underdelivers in terms of sound quality.
The gist: Expensive for what it offers, and built more for the custom-install crowd.
Jeff said: As for sound, the Bel Canto stack stacks up well against the DACs that many feel are among the best available, and at less than Arab-sheik prices. They’re sonically very well balanced across the board, but are simply superb in the midrange, where lots of music needs it most. Although the Bel Cantos won’t beat every competing product in every sonic area -- what high-end component does? -- they can stand toe to toe with the best of them, and offer their owner a beautiful view into the heart of the music.
The gist: Modular digital front end that gets the midrange just about perfect.
Roger said: Its improvement of transparency, imaging, and low-level detail make it a cost-effective upgrade for $375. If your digital audio system doesn’t already include USB input and you’re thinking of adding a USB converter, a Bel Canto mLink would be an excellent place to start.
The gist: Got a DAC without USB input?
Hans said: The DAC2 HGC uses one of the best digital chipsets on the market today to produce a quality of sound that, until a few years ago, wasn’t available for less than $10,000. It sounds far more refined than its $1995 price would suggest, and when you consider that it can serve as the keystone of a digital and analog system, on a desktop or in a listening room, it becomes all the more remarkable.
The gist: Follow-up to the highly successful DAC1.
Philip said: For $2395, the buyer of a BDA-2 will get a solidly built, high-performing DAC that can improve the sound of up to eight source components, while also accepting high-resolution digital files from a computer.
The gist: Solid choice for a mid-priced DAC from a venerable company.
Doug said: If you value strict neutrality, high transparency, excellent detail, and unflinching, unwavering, unapologetic fidelity to the source, then you’ll find Cambridge Audio’s Azur 851C a wonderful digital source component and, at $1999, an excellent deal.
The gist: Tons of modern functionality and great sound, too.
Howard said: Twenty years from now, when some reviewer again recounts Ed Meitner’s storied accomplishments, I’m sure the EMM Labs DAC2X will be judged worthy of prominence in that list, much like the Meitner IDAT DAC of 1992. Like the IDAT, the DAC2X pushes the performance envelope of digital conversion. More important, it taught me a few things about the art of music.
The gist: The flagship from a true legend in digital audio.
Uday said: It is fully competitive with other well-regarded DACs costing less than $10,000, including my reference Meitner MA-1 ($7000). I feel you can’t go wrong with the D-07X -- it should be on anyone’s list for consideration.
The gist: Right up there with the top units in its price range.
Price: $23,500 each
Ryan said: These state-of-the-art products will likely be the end of the digital road for those lucky enough to be able to buy them. If I had the coin, I wouldn’t hesitate to buy these things, and never worry about digital again. And with a build quality to last 40 years? Yeah, I could justify that. Amazing.
The gist: SOTA digital for the high roller.
Jeff said: Although you can buy a higher-resolution device for more money, I’m not sure you’ll find one that you’ll enjoy as much, regardless of price. The reason? That elusive quality of musicality. That makes the Hegel HD25 a Select Component, and a surefire way to elevate your sound system for what is, by today’s high-end standards, relatively little money.
Garrett said: If I had the extra cash, I’d get the Hegel HD25 right away. Affordably priced, with plug’n’play installation, and easy to operate, it’s an excellent product and a gateway to high performance in computer-based digital playback.
The gist: Perhaps the DAC to buy for $2500.
Uday said: If you’re in the market for a new tuner, you should consider Internet Radio streaming for all the possibilities it brings. The MD 806T seemed to optimize that experience, and therefore deserves your consideration.
The gist: High-end Internet Radio for the audiophile.
Randall said: The Relay is as nicely engineered and built as any audio product at its price that I have reviewed. The thought that Mass Fidelity has put into it is refreshing. There are other Bluetooth DACs on the market that come nowhere close to looking or sounding as good as the Relay.
The gist: Bluetooth as good as CD -- will wonders never cease.
S. Andrea said: The Music Culture Elegance MC 501A delivers full, rich bass; a vivid, present midrange; and sweet highs. Its sound is more about tone and fluidity than slam and sparkle. The MC 501A won’t bowl you over with detail, but if you sit down and listen to it, you’ll find that most of those details are still there, playing a subservient role to the music -- as they do in real life.
Prices: $199 and $179, respectively
Thom said: I heartily recommend the Air DACs, especially at their prices -- either will provide the advantage of wireless connectivity for the cost of a simple, entry-level wired DAC. They’re the real deal.
The gist: Wireless solutions from NuForce do not disappoint.
Wes said: Using an Oppo, I stop thinking about my electronics and start looking for more movies to watch. The Oppo BDP-103 is a Reviewers’ Choice product -- and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it mentioned next January, when the 2013 SoundStage! Network Product of the Year awards are announced.
The gist: The BD player to get priced under five bills.
Roger said: At $1199, the BDP-105 is an easy recommendation as a state-of-the-art Blu-ray Disc player and basic media player/server. When you consider that it’s also a very good DAC and digital preamp, its value is off the charts.
The gist: Simply the best Blu-ray-enabled source on the market.
Price: $599 CAD
Sathyan said: The Concero is a fundamentally good value that stands out in a crowded field with a well-chosen set of features and a focus on bringing the most out of good recordings for a surprisingly affordable price.
The gist: Fairly new company’s excellent entry-level DAC offering.
Graham said: At a base price of $4350, the Moon Neo 380D isn’t cheap, but its performance is commensurate with its price. It’s a sophisticated machine that’s simple to operate and capable of reproducing music with true beauty, and it manages to do this with lowly old “Red Book” digital right on up to 24/192 recordings, making all stops in between.
The gist: Gets all the basics right, and from a top-flight company.