At what point does it make sense to upgrade from an entry level DAC to something more?

As the title implies I am wondering at what point should one look to upgrade ones dac game? Right now my stack is being fed by an SMSL M100 and so far I am happy with it. I do wish it’s shape more uniformly matched my other gear. An topping PA3 and Atom Amp. But I feel like spending another hundred dollars just to change something aesthetically is a waste. So I wonder how much higher in the dac quality would or should I go for an upgrade to become worth it? Or at least noticeably different while of course better in some regard to sound quality.

It depends on the headphones or speakers. I would generally say that there is no need to venture beyond the budget (1-200 dollar) dacs untill you’ve hit 1-1.5k range in headphones and even then you will probably want to look at upgrading the amp first. Really though once you get into that range synergy starts to matter more so you would want to take into account what headphones pair nicely with which amp and dac. The key is to figure out the headphones first and then build the signal chain around them for maximum synergy and performance


@Towa left you some pretty solid advice here. Not much more to add. I think the best point to start upgrading your DAC is when you have a good idea of what sound you like and what sound you’re going for.

A DAC can make a big difference in sound or it can make a barely perceptible difference in sound, it depends on the chain, the synnergy and in a lot of cases, the cabling and power supply.

I’d also add that to make a meaningful jump and something you’d keep for a while, you’d be shooting for the $600 to $700 dollar range.

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Actually, it’s easy, once you decide you want to go on Dsd, you’ll need someone to support it.
Which would be technically necessary if you play your music on Audirvana as an example.

Otherwise, if the goal is not pursued, stay with the Pcm capable Dac and use Audirvana to use the full bandwidth of its technical output, and there are quite a few in the low price sector.
Whether there are sound differences is another matter.