DACs: dCS, Esoteric, or . . . ?

To Doug Schneider,

I am considering an upgrade of my DAC and wanted to ask your opinion about potential models. My current DAC is an Esoteric D-07X and I am considering an Esoteric D-02 (their flagship DAC), the dCS Scarlatti or maybe the Debussy. I am also currently using an Esoteric A-02 amp, C-03 preamp, and Aurender S10 music server. The digital cable is Nordost Odin XLR, speaker cables are Nordost Odin, and interconnects are the brand-new Nordost Valhalla 2 XLR cables, which, I might add, are remarkable. My speakers are KEF Blades (technically they are on order and due in June). The balance of my system basically pertains to analog. So which of the DACs mentioned above would you suggest? Or maybe something different? Or perhaps even still no changes at all? I realize this is very subjective. You don't know my room and there are many variables involved. But based on my current equipment, I am curious to know your opinion.

Thanks so much,

Wow, that’s quite a system you have! I’m particularly envious about the Blades because I’ve never heard those in my room.

Insofar as the DAC goes, I don’t think it does any harm to at least look around. When it comes to digital, Esoteric and dCS are renowned for their sound and build quality, so my only recommendation there would be to listen to the models you've picked and see if any offer real improvements over what you currently have.

The thing I’ll strongly recommend, mind you, is to add Meitner Audio and EMM Labs to your list. They belong to the same parent company and the products from those brands are designed by Ed Meitner, who is more or less a legend when it comes to digital audio. Do a patent search with his name and you might be surprised what comes up.

Right now, I have the Meitner Audio MA-1 in-house, and I can confidently say it’s one of the very best DACs I’ve ever heard at any price, with soundstaging and imaging capabilities that are second to none. In fact, the breadth, depth, and specificity of the stage blows me away every time I listen to it. It retails for $7000. Then there’s the EMM Labs DAC2X, which is $15,500 and shares the same inherent design as the MA-1 but is built with better-quality parts and tighter tolerances. I haven’t heard the DAC2X, but the folks at Meitner’s company said they’ll send one for me to hear and compare with the MA-1. If the DAC2X is significantly better than the MA-1, then it must be truly extraordinary. I hope that helps. . . . Doug Schneider