Aura Note NeoPrice: $1795

Website: www.aprilmusic.com

Philip said: A buyer of the Aura separates will be treated to a highly engaging sound whose warmth, midrange clarity, and solid low end offer all the ingredients of a wholly involving listening experience. The fact that they also offer so much functionality and connectivity is just the icing on the cake. Some of their competitors would be wise to follow their example. 

Read the SoundStage! Xperience review.

The gist: Lifestyle mixed with audiophile.

Arcam Solo rDacPrice: $479

Website: www.arcam.co.uk

Vince said: Arcam’s Solo rDac has exceeded my expectations for an inexpensive DAC. With a sleek silver-aluminum chassis and a single button on top, it’s a good-looking, easy-to-use audio component. Although I didn’t find that it significantly improved the performance of my Oppo Blu-ray player, its forte was playing music through its USB connection.

Great Buy

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The gist: Asynchronous USB DAC that's a solid deal.

ARC DAC8Price: $4995

Website: www.audioresearch.com

Vade said: ARC’s DAC8 is a well-engineered, well-built machine that advances the state of the audio art and finally makes it possible to assemble a no-holds-barred, computer-based music server whose sound is competitive with just about anything -- which is just what I was looking for.

Reviewers' Choice

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The gist: Sure to be a popular choice for computing audiophiles.

Auraliti PK100Price: $799

Website: www.auraliti.com

Vade said: If you haven’t yet begun using computer audio files because you’re uncomfortable with a computer, or don’t feel like buying an extra computer for storing and playing music files, the Auraliti PK100 is an easy, inexpensive way to get started -- and it has the legs to be used in an advanced high-resolution audio system.

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The gist: An inexpensive way to get into a standalone audiophile-oriented music server.

Ayre DX-5Price: $9950 in silver (add $250 for black)

Website: www.ayre.com

Pete said: Digital audio has never sounded better in my system than when I use Ayre Acoustics’ DX-5 as the source. Refined, resolving, musical, and engaging, the DX-5 is exactly what the doctor ordered: an electrifying performer and an unequivocal bargain, despite its price of nearly $10,000. The folks at Ayre have outdone themselves -- the DX-5 is better than their C-5xeMP at spinning audio discs, leagues ahead of their QB-9 for computer audio, and provides 2D images of unequaled quality, without the ailments typically inflicted on an audio system by the inclusion of video.

Select Component

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The gist: Maybe he best universal player yet.

Bel Canto Design e.One DAC2.5Price: $1995

Website: www.belcantodesign.com

Roger said: I can think of several very good DACs for about $1000 that have recently been recommended by SoundStage! Network reviewers. At twice that price, the Bel Canto e.One DAC2.5 might seem expensive in comparison. But when you consider that it includes a high-resolution digital volume control, analog input, and a Home Theater Bypass mode, its value becomes apparent. It can be used as the control center of a high-performance two-channel rig and still be easily integrated into a multichannel system. The e.One DAC2.5 offers a lot of performance and flexibility for $1995.

Great Buy

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The gist: Digital control center for a high-quality, high-value system.

Blue Circle BC509Price: $1205

Website: www.bluecircle.com

Jason said: The BC509 dished out more depth and dynamics, more realism in the bass, and a silkier top end, and while each of these is small potatoes in isolation, together they cohered into a whole that, once again, sounded more like music.

Read the SoundStage! Hi-Fi review.

The gist: Musical sounding, modestly priced DAC from Gilbert.

Bryston BDP-1Price: $2195

Website: www.bryston.com

Doug said: The BDP-1’s purpose wasn’t clear to me before it arrived, but it’s very clear now: the high-quality transfer of music data from an attached USB drive. That’s all it does, but it does it startlingly well and very easily.

Read the SoundStage! Hi-Fi review.

The gist: Bryston is ahead of the field with their first music server.

Copland CDA825Price: $6500

Website: www.copland.dk

Michael said: For under $10,000, the Copland CDA825 is a formidable CD player. If you don’t have a lot of SACD or DVD-Audio discs, it should be on your short list of CD players to audition. If you play nothing but "Red Book" CDs, I highly recommend you give it a close listen. Its combination of excellent build quality, clever design, and utterly musical performance will make it a rewarding CD player to own.

Read the Ultra Audio review.

The gist: The high-end CD player lives on.

Esoteric K-03Price: $13,000

Website: www.esoteric.teac.com

Howard said: I’m giving the Esoteric K-03 a Reviewers’ Choice award, no ifs, ands, or buts. It’s the Swiss Army Knife of high-end audio. In fact, it does so many things so well that if Esoteric told me that an amplifier, a pair of tower speakers, and 50 jazz CDs were jammed into its box, I almost wouldn’t be surprised. More important, the K-03 does all of these things at an uncommon level of performance.

Reviewers' Choice

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The gist: One of the best one-box digital players so far.

Eximus DP1Price: $2995

Website: www.aprilmusic.com

Doug said: Its appearance and build are fitting for a product at twice or even thrice the price; on the digital side, its rich feature set and thoroughly up-to-date technology approach the state of the art; and the DP1’s distinctive, lively, ultraclear sound -- whether it’s used as a DAC-preamp, an analog preamp, or a headphone amp -- is ridiculously good at the price.

Reviewers' Choice

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The gist: Jewel-like build and sound.

Furutech Alpha Design Labs GT40Price: $525

Website: www.furutech.com

S. Andrea said: Other DAC/headphone amplifiers at about the GT40’s price support 24/96 files, but very few of them can also be used purely as a headphone amplifier -- and none, as far as I know, has a built-in phono stage. If you’re content to buy a GT40 for those features alone, $525 is not an unreasonable price for this level of performance. Of course, the GT40 also includes an ADC, which makes it a one-box solution for converting the output of your turntable into digital files. If you’re looking for a high-quality way to get high-quality sound out of your computer and want to digitize the occasional LP, then the Furutech GT40 is a really good choice.

Great Buy

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The gist: A Swiss Army Knife for the digital age.

Hegel HD10Price: $1200

Website: www.hegel.com

Doug said: If I weren’t a reviewer with an almost endless supply of new, often very expensive products trooping through my listening room -- stuff I couldn’t otherwise afford -- a sensibly priced, overachieving DAC such as the HD10 is exactly what I’d own. If you’re serious about sound and sensible about money, you, too, should look into it. 

Reviewers' Choice

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The gist: The specs don’t tell you how good this thing is.

Hegel HD2Price: $350

Website: www.hegel.com

Ron said: The Hegel Music Systems HD2 is the Swiss Army knife of high-end audio -- but imagine such a knife with a Kikuichi Yanagi sushi blade. For the absolutely sane price of $350, the HD2 would be a bargain even if it were only a DAC or a USB-to-S/PDIF converter. The fact that it does both more than competently makes it a real standout, especially when you consider the competition.

Great Buy

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The gist: Low-priced DAC with a Norwegian twist.

HRT Music Streamer IIPrice: $149.95

Website: www.highresolutiontechnologies.com

Howard said: Technophiles will be amazed that the Music Streamer II makes good on High Resolution Technologies’ promise to bring asynchronous-mode, 24-bit/96kHz computer audio to the masses. Those on low budgets will appreciate that it’s an absolute steal for $149.95. Everyone else can simply revel in the fact that the MSII sounds great, and provides more fun than the time neighbor Bentley accidentally dropped his ant farm in George Jefferson’s living room. Highly recommended for those looking for an inexpensive DAC that can decode hi-rez files.

Reviewers' Choice

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The gist: Good digital sound is getting cheaper and cheaper.

M2Tech YoungPrice: $1800

Website: www.m2tech.biz

Vade said: The M2Tech Young is a worthy entry at its price. Unlike most of its competition, it can play up to 32-bit/384kHz files, which should future-proof its design. Though you may find the sound of super-hi-rez recordings superior to 24/192 files, I can’t say I heard any improvement. Of more interest to me was how the Young sounded playing the computer audio files available today: rips of CDs and hi-rez downloads. With those, it sounded delightful, with a smooth response, beautiful tonal reproduction, and lots of detail.

Read the SoundStage! Hi-Fi review.

The gist: The USB DAC for the highest sampling rates available.

MSB Technology UniversalPrice: $3995 plus power supply ($595-$4495)

Website: www.msbtech.com

Vade said: Everything about the UMT smacks of quality and attention to detail. It’s built like the proverbial brick outhouse, and considering how many functions it provides, it’s quite user friendly. The MSB UMT is a serious assault on the state of the transport art. Its price reflects that, but so does its sound. If you have deep pockets and a love for the finest audio equipment, and the finest sound, I urge you to audition the MSB Technology Universal Media Transport. 

Read the Ultra Audio review.

The gist: Oppo-based forward-thinking source component.

Oppo BDP-93Price: $499

Website: www.oppodigital.com

Wes said: Oppo has created another front-runner. When I reviewed the BDP-83, I wrote, “Oppo has come up with so many winners over the last five years that it’s starting to resemble a dynasty.” Let’s just go ahead and affirm that the transformation is now complete: Oppo is a dynasty.

Reviewers' Choice

Read the SoundStage! Xperience review.

The gist: Another knockout disc player from Oppo.

Simple Design SonorePrice: $1899

Website: www.sonore.us

Jeff said: We’ve crossed a bridge: Laptop and desktop computers are no longer the only thing to get if you seek the best sound from your music server. And audiophile-oriented companies are still doing what they’ve been doing for decades: taking something that reproduces sound and making it sound better. Simple Design is a company to watch, and their Sonore is a really good-sounding machine. I guess there’s no looking back now: Out goes the computer, in comes the music server.

Read the Ultra Audio review.

The gist: Excellent standalone music server from a custom builder.

Wavelength ProtonPrice: $900

Website: www.usbdacs.com

Doug said: It’s difficult to heap enough praise on this $900 DAC without sounding like an employee of Wavelength’s PR firm. But if you want your digital recordings to thrill you the way you’re thrilled by a fantastic analog front end, while retaining everything that’s good about digital playback, the Proton is the least expensive way I know of to get there. It delivers ultra-high-end digital sound at a price that’s realistic for audiophiles who can’t consider products that cost many times as much.

Great Buy

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The gist: One of the best USB DACs from the company that helped create the genre.

YBA Design WD202Price: $879

Website: www.ybadesign.com

Doug said: While not perfect in every way, the YBA Design WD202 DAC is a good performer in a growing group of digital-to-analog converters in the $800-$1000 range. Its sound was articulate, enjoyable, and musical, with a slight bias toward a little extra romance, beauty, and warmth, and its input switching and variable volume control mean that it can be used as a DAC-preamp in an all-digital system.

Read the SoundStage! Access review.

The gist: No hi-rez USB, but good sound for a fair-priced DAC.

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