Aqua - Acoustic Quality La Voce S2Price: $2700

Website: www.aquahifi.com

Michael said: You’d easily need to spend at least $4000 or even $5000 to surpass the level of performance La Voce S2 achieves for $2700. In my book, that makes it great value for the money. With its solid build quality, full feature set, modular design with easy field support -- and, most important, high sound quality -- the Aqua - Acoustic Quality La Voce S2 DAC is easily and highly recommended.

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The gist: Your choice of DAC chips makes this product highly customizable.

Ayre Acoustics QB-9DSDPrice: $3495

Website: www.ayre.com

Colin said: When a component raises the bar as much as the QB-9DSD did in my system, I think I’d sell a kidney to keep it. So far that hasn’t proved necessary, and at the $700 upgrade price I won’t have to sell even an eyelash.

Reviewers' Choice

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The gist: One of the original USB DACs gets a makeover.

BluesoundPrice: $699

Website: www.bluesound.com

Kevin said: The Powernode and Duo are simply a dedicated combo of receiver and speakers -- but this “receiver” is a dedicated streaming tuner, and the speakers are three diminutive wonders from Paul Barton. They are elegant reinventions of tried-and-true audio products.

Read the SoundStage! Xperience review.

The gist: Streaming receiver with 50Wpc of NAD-like power.

Calyx MPrice: $999

Website: www.calyx.kr

Rad said: The Calyx M is a great-sounding portable player that includes native DSD decoding and works with just about every other format and sampling rate. It has a beautiful OLED screen and an attractive copper finish

Read the SoundStage! Xperience review.

The gist: Viable alternative to Astell&Kern.

Cambridge Audio Azur 851NPrice: $1799

Website: www.cambridgeaudio.com

Hans said: The Azur 851N’s DAC section is a real honey, producing the kind of dulcet sound that any audiophile should be able to appreciate. Combined with an intuitive user interface and a raft of digital inputs and outputs, this unassuming streaming DAC should have no shortage of admirers.

Read the SoundStage! Access review.

The gist: Incredibly full-featured digital front end.

Cocktail Audio X40Price: $2695

Website: www.cocktailaudio.com

Sathyan said: I was, on the whole, very impressed with the Cocktail Audio X40. In the X40, one gets a ripper, a server, a renderer, a tuner of both Internet and FM radio, and an excellent DAC, all tied together with a well-thought-out user interface. What’s not to like about that?

Read the SoundStage! Hi-Fi review.

The gist: Less-expensive alternative to the Aurenders of the world.

DigiBit AriaPrice: $7995

Website: www.ariamusicserver.com

Vade said: I’ve tried many other servers, and have never encountered one so easy to get up and running. But that would be of only academic interest if the Aria didn’t sound good, and it sounds splendid -- its built-in DAC is especially good. And the Aria looks as good as it sounds. For me, the Aria’s features easily justify its cost. It gets my highest recommendation, and is a Reviewers’ Choice.

Reviewers' Choice

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The gist: In the top tier of today’s best music servers.

EsotericPrice: $80,000 (combined)

Website: www.esoteric-usa.com

Howard said: For now, the Grandioso P1 and D1 play on a field where the sign outside the stadium says “SOTA.” Remarkably, at this level you can spend even more. However, I’m not certain that, if you do, you’ll see a decent return on your money, if any. Highly recommended for those with deep audiophile pockets and the desire to go from 0 to 60 in 2.2 seconds now.

Reviewers' Choice

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The gist: As far as the best digital, in the top three for sure.

Exogal CometPrice: $2500

Website: www.exogal.com

Jeff said: Its sound is where the Comet really shines. My listening gave me the sense that the Comet’s designers didn’t try to balance trade-offs, or make sonic compromises here and there, to tailor the sound to a particular type of listener. The Comet seemed determined to let me hear everything that a recording contained, as if it cost ten times as much as it does. In short, the Comet needs no excuses made for it. It sounds great not only for its price, but regardless of price.

Read the SoundStage! Ultra review.

The gist: Some unique features and great sound set this DAC apart.

Hegel Music SystemsPrice: $1400

Website: www.hegel.com

Jeff said: Hegel Music Systems’ HD12 digital-to-analog converter provides the best sound for the least money of any DAC I’ve had in my system. You might be surprised at just how good it is, and just how uncompromised its sound is on an absolute basis.

Reviewers' Choice

Read the SoundStage! Ultra review.

The gist: Strong little performer at exactly the right price point.

Hegel Music Systems HD30Price: $4800

Website: www.hegel.com

Doug said: The HD30’s big selling point is its sound -- and what a sound it is: Its world-class resolution, extreme clarity, and superb refinement let you listen very deeply into recordings, to hear precisely what the musicians and engineers laid down there. And it does so while adding no ill artifacts -- the HD30 sounded incredibly clean in my system, never bright, edgy, or off-putting.

Reviewers' Choice

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The gist: Who knew SOTA digital only costs $4800?

Moon by Simaudio Neo 260DPrice: $2000; $3000 with optional DAC

Website: www.simaudio.com

Oliver said: I’d buy a Moon Neo 260D in a heartbeat. If you’re putting together an audition list for a combo CD player-DAC, Simaudio’s Moon Neo 260D belongs at the top of it.

Read the SoundStage! Hi-Fi review.

The gist: A really good transport for the disc spinners out there.

Moon by Simaudio Neo 280DPrice: $2200

Website: www.simaudio.com

Uday said: The Moon Neo 280D is a well-rounded DAC that handles all musical genres with finesse, but if your tastes lean more toward rock’n’roll and fusion, the Neo 280D may very well be the DAC for you. My default recommendation in this price range has been the Oppo HA-1, but the Neo 280D should be right up there for those looking for other options in that price range or higher.

Read the SoundStage! Hi-Fi review.

The gist: Neo might be closer to Evolution than you think.

Stanford Research Systems PERF10Price: $3495

Website: www.thinksrs.com

Howard said: The bottom line is that the PERF10 and its lower-priced siblings, the FS725 and PRS10, will virtually eliminate clock jitter at a price -- $3495 or less -- that is nothing short of revolutionary.

Reviewers' Choice

Read the SoundStage! Ultra review.

The gist: Like they say, timing is everything.

Wadia di322Price: $3500

Website: www.wadia.com

Jeff said: But the di322 wasn’t just a pretty face with nothing behind it. Its sound was full, big, and played deep -- deep bass, deep soundstage, wide dynamic range. It relished music that I like to play at high volumes with fist-pumping verve.

Reviewers' Choice

Read the SoundStage! Ultra review.

The gist: Jeff’s favorite DAC under $4k.

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