MQA DAC under 500


What cheaper options are there? I have started using Tidal + Roon and many songs in Tidal are MQA. So I have decided to try out what the fuss is all about. Current DACs I have : SMSL SU8 - bit too analytical and fatiguing for me, Audio GD-11 R2R - smoother, but SMSL has more detail, Modi 2 - good small thing to use in LAN partys etc, sounds decent for what it is.

MQA - SMSL M500 came to mind right away for me. So it can also be a DAC/AMP combo, but headphone selection is not a must have by any means.
There is only a Topping, but thats like 800. So bit of a stretch, but is it worth it?


Ifi Zen Dac (and some portables from iFi – iDSD, nano?)
Pro-Ject Pre Box S2 Digital


Ifi hip dac too, less fatigue and warmer amp/dac

can something that cheap really be that good?

In the red (4/4th) compared to all the hi-fi/endgame stuff ASR measures. It’s still 90-ish dB SINAD. At 90dB, my ears hurt. For the price and features, it’s impressive. For someone thinking about a SMSL M500, probably not. :stuck_out_tongue:

The Pre-box S2 is apparently a decent, hi-end dac. Available on eBay for cheaper than the M500. Probably better than the M500 too. SMSL/Topping seem to be running after SINAD numbers instead of sound quality.

SMSL seems to have some QA issues, will skip that.

Those ASR reviews dont tell me anything :stuck_out_tongue: I dont likegraphs and folks who get boners while looking at them :smiley: Also people there seems quite snobby. :smiley:

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I love my ifi Zen dac. It has a nice tuning for me. It is also balanced. It really is impressive for the price. It has a 4.4mm balanced pre-out on the back, so you can use it for balanced amplifiers as well.

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Buy it from crutchfield or similar place with good return policy and try it. Or as someone mentioned, for a few bucks more you can get the portable version. Though I do not know if it is balanced.

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Good luck finding that kinda cable :smiley:

Here it also states :

There’s upgrade potential too, with iFi making an outboard mains power supply called the iPower X (£99/$99), which definitely improves the sound in all areas, but also moves the DAC into desktop-only scenario and a higher price segment.

Would probably go for that too. :stuck_out_tongue:

Under 500 desktop options I believe are limited to two being the zen and the m500… I’ll echo that the zen is really nice… you could also buy an audio quest dragonfly to give things a try

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I have that dac,and for its size and performance its like a thx level device…you just need a better amp i you wanna drive something then hd 600s…but you can buy a project headbox s2,for like 120.ish dollars,and drive almost everything,and you have a small 500 dollars combo that is briliant and has everything possible…or just buy the thx monoprice dac amp for 500.

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I ordered a custom cable from Hart Audio so I could run balanced line out from my Hiby R5. Same would work for the Zen.

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Honestly i wouldnt pay $500 to see what the fuss is all about with MQA. In my experience mqa is only beneficial to hip hop/rap/pop and maybe vocals on other genre. You should go with a zen dac or the portable ifi hip dac. And not pay more than $150. those dac amps are very good for the price. You seem to already have decent dacs. What headphones do you use? Having used tidals mqa I didnt think it was really worth it. Just made vocals stand out a tiny bit more but made everything else more airy. Maybe helped the bass a little too.

I mostly use Hifiman Ananda, HE400i. But also use the DAC output for speakers and KOSS x Massdrop electrostats :stuck_out_tongue:

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Nice, would you ever look into a dynamic headphones? Could be nice to get a balaced dynamic with an ifi dac amp for $500 or iem

Z linked to one in his review

^^^ X2 don’t believe the hype…had it with Tidal haven’t missed it with Amazon Prime one bit.

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thats a 4.4mm to dual xlr for 34$ on ebay, buy today

i run my monoprice retros, meze noirs, CAL’s, and my 1 pair of iem off of the internal amp on the zen, they all sound great and it has plenty of juice for all of those.

Personally i’ve been looking at getting the donald dac it has MQA for 99$