Best R2R DAC 2023: 7 Lucky Options + More

Yes. R2R ladder DACs aren’t the first choices when it comes to choosing DACs anymore. 

If you’re on the hunt for the best DACs, R2R ladder DACs automatically get left behind. But some of you might still be interested in the so-called “dying breed.” 

Okay, I’ll stop bashing them here.

After careful consideration, we have 7 DACs worth mentioning. However, which is the Best R2R DAC?

  • The best overall R2R Ladder DAC is Musician DRACO in my opinion. It’s also the best R2R DAC under $1000.
  • The best R2R Dongle DAC is the Cayin RU6.
  • The best premium R2R DAC is the Musician Aquarius R2R DAC.

Pretty sure that wasn’t enough for you to come to a decision. So, we’ve got some interesting pointers for you regarding the DACs throughout the page. Stick around till the end.

Do R2R DACs Sound Better?

Yes, R2R DACs sound better as they sound more natural, with neutral tonality that you can’t normally get from Delta Sigma DACs. They sound symphonically livelier compared to Delta too. 

In the first place, if you’re wondering if DACs are worth it, Here’s a quick answer- yes, they are. There are primarily two kinds of DACs, R2R Ladder DACs and Delta Sigma DACS.

Now, let’s talk about the differences here. What happens in R2R DACs vs Delta Sigma DACs?

R2R DACs sound more natural, Delta Sigma DACs sound more refined. That’s because of the difference in processing. Delta Sigma DACs digitally process the sound with filters whereas R2R gives us the raw conversion, hence the pure tag. 

Furthermore, R2R DACs don’t work for every kind of device. For example there are several amps best for the DT 770 Pro, and not one of them is R2R.

With that out of the way,  I’ll be talking about what this type of DAC actually does. Here’s what I think from a user’s POV.

Like other complex groups of enthusiasts, I’ve been on the R2R train for years! And I’ll give you something you might like about them.

Heck, I’ll even give you two things.

It’s the resolution of these DACs and the tone. Between the two, the naturalness of the DACs makes it even better.

This is something most of the cheaper DACs fail to deliver.

Look, I know things aren’t looking too good for the future of R2R DACs. But enthusiasts like you and I would fight for it. 

If you’re on the hunt for truly organic audio, I don’t think the other types of DACs can compete with R2R. But they’re getting there.

You can still hear the distortions in the cheaper alternatives. And some of them would have grains and noises on the audio.

So, this is the practical solution in my eyes.

Top R2R DACs

Image

Product

Unique Feature

Supports

Price

Amazing Sound Quality 

Upto DSD1024 and Upto PCM1536

Best Featureset at the price

Upto DSD1024 and Upto PCM1536

Most Affordable High-end R2R DAC

Upto PCM768

The Only R2R Dongle DAC

Upto DSD256 and Upto PCM384

Flagship Under $2000

Upto DSD1024 and Upto PCM1536

Peerless Audio Quality

Upto DSD1024 and Upto PCM1536

Best Premium R2R DAC

Upto DSD1024 and Upto PCM1536

Best R2R DACs Under $1000

Musician DRACO

The Best Overall R2R DAC

CHECK LATEST PRICE ON

Specifications:

  • Power Consumption(0db@1kHz): 5.6W
  • Support Format(DSD): DSD1024* on USB input
  • Support Format(PCM): 1536kHz on USB input 
  • Digital Input: 1x I²S LVDS via HDMI, 1x Coaxial, 1x Optical Toslink, 1x AES, 1x USB-B
  • Analog Output: 1x Single-ended RCA, 1x Balanced XLR
  • Sampling Mode: Non-Oversampling (NOS) / Oversamping (OS)

The Pros:

  • Organic Sound
  • Large Soundstage, Impressive Resolution
  • Affordable
  • Widely Available

The Cons:

  • Lacks USB-C
  • Quite Heavy compared to peers

Right from the top, I’ll start with Musician DRACO. DRACO has almost all the features R2R DACs can offer, including even I²S support.

In my opinion, Musician DRACO is undoubtedly the overall best R2R DAC of 2022

This is a DAC after your heart but not your wallet. The affordable DAC delivers on all the R2R promises. Furthermore, it surpassed all my expectations in the sound department.

In a more direct Musician DRACO vs Denafrips ARES II situation, I found that the DRACO outperformed its rival for the best overall, all across the board. 

From listening for just a few hours, I can already tell that DRACO has more resolution, and a more spacious soundstage compared to ARES II. That aside, DRACOs audio filtering surprised me as I did not hear any background noise that’s usually proprietary to R2R DACs. 

Additionally, the bass was punchy, deep and the mids were well detailed with clear separation.  The Vocals however, stood out the most in my experience. 

Moving away from the sound quality, I’ll talk a little about technicality and build. As I’ve mentioned before, DRACO has almost everything R2R has to offer, the only functionality it lacks is probably the USB-C. 

As for the build, DRACO pretty much meets the standard. I have no complaints regarding this side of things. There’s not much else to say here.

Denafrips ARES II

Excellent Sound at Excellent Price

Specifications:

  • Power Consumption(0db@1kHz): ≤20W 
  • Support Format(DSD): DSD64-DoP On All Input; DSD1024* on USB input 
  • Support Format(PCM): 24bits / 44.1, 48, 88.2, 96, 176.4, 192KHz On All Input; 1536kHz* On USB Input
  • Digital Input: Coax x 2; TOSLink x 2; USB2.0 Type B
  • Analog Output: RCA at 2.0Vrms, 625 Ω; XLR at 4.0Vrms, 1250 Ω
  • Sampling Mode: Non-Oversampling (NOS) / Oversampling (OS)

The Pros:

  • Flagship Featureset under $1000
  • Supports PCM1536 and DSD1024
  • Best Sound Quality R2R can offer at the price

The Cons:

  • Lacks I²S input
  • Higher Power Consumption
  • Not Widely Available

The second contender of the Sub-thousand list is Denafrips ARES II R2R DAC, in other words, ENYO. ARES II is a huge jump over the original ARES released by the same company. 

The Technicalities of the ARES II is impressive to say the least. It supports both PCM and DSD to their maximum capabilities. 

However, I have one gripe about this particular model, which is the lack of I2S connector. To get full potential out of PCM, I2S is absolutely necessary. This holds the ARES II somewhat back.  

Moving on to sound quality, ARES II is decent all across the board. The music has a warm tone to it with this one and does not focus on breaking grounds. It sounded comforting to me, but I do prefer something with a little more bang to it. 

That aside, I have another gripe with the Denafrips Ares II. It is not widely available, contrary to its popularity. While it is available on Amazon and Aliexpress, the company won’t cover those under official warranty, that was a dealbreaker for me. 

Despite the gripes, it does not take away from the fact that ARES II is an amazing DAC and is only second to DRACO in that price bracket.

HIFIMAN EF400

USB Powered Gaming Headphone Ensures Best Experience

Specifications:

  • Power Consumption(0db@1kHz): 4.4w
  • Support Format(PCM): Up to 32 Bits at 768kHz
  • Digital Input: 1x USB-B and 1x USB-C
  • Analog Output: 1x RCA Outputs, 2x balanced 3-pin XLR
  • Sampling Mode: Oversampling (OS) or Non-Oversampling (NOS)

The Pros:

  • Very Affordable
  • Decent Sound Quality
  • USB-C Input

The Cons:

  • Does not support DSD

HIFIMAN made an entry into the under-$1000 price bracket with the Hifiman EF400 R2R DAC. If you want my take on it, I would not recommend it despite putting it in the list for the lack of other contenders in the same bracket. 

First things first, HIFIMAN EF400 does not support DSD audio format. That by itself is a dealbreaker for me. Furthermore, it also lacks analogue input. One thing that I did like about the technicalities, is that the EF400 has USB-C input.

However, despite the disappointing technicalities, the audio quality did not disappoint me. To explore a bit more on that subject-

The EF400 has an analogue-ish timbre to it in my opinion and that helps build a comparatively large soundstage. The sound quality it helps give out is unique and niche. Not every audiophile will love it, but it was music to my ears at least. 

Additionally, EF400 is portable and is built to last. That is something I really like since I travel around a lot. So, the audio and build quality helped it make it to the list.

Cayin RU6

The Best R2R Dongle DAC

CHECK LATEST PRICE ON

Specifications:

  • Power Consumption(0db@1kHz): N/A
  • Support Format(DSD): DSD256
  • Support Format(PCM): 384kHz
  • Digital Input: USB-C
  • Analog Output: 3.5mm and 4.4mm 
  • Sampling Mode: Non-Oversampling (NOS)/ Oversampling (OS)

The Pros:

  • The Only R2R Dongle DAC
  • Impressive Audio Filtering with zero floor noise
  • Almost no power draw
  • Very Portable

The Cons:

  • Not the best audio quality
  • Does not support either format to most capability
  • Expensive for a dongle DAC

Next is the cheapest R2R DAC on the list, in other words, Cayin RU6 R2R DAC. It is the cheapest, and for good reasons.

Cayin RU6 is the first R2R dongle DAC. This one was a hit or miss for me. It has been both impressive and disappointing for me. 

Starting with the technicalities, Cayin RU6 is a USB-C Dongle R2R DAC that costs the least in terms of R2R DACs. It had to make some sacrifices for that. 

The biggest one would be that, Cayin RU6 does not support either of the audio formats to their maximum capability. It only supports DSD256 and PCM384. 

However, the gains were just as big since it draws next to no power and comes with impressive noise filtering. By impressive I mean, I noticed zero floor noise during my time using it. 

The Audio quality furthermore, was nothing short of impressive. It was on par with some of the more expensive DACs in terms of clarity and details. The bass was well defined with distinctive vocals. I really liked the quality for the price. 

Furthermore, You can literally take it anywhere and everywhere because of how compact and light it is. That sounds like a win to me. If you’re into R2R and Dongle DACS, I believe this is the right one for you.

Best R2R DACs Under $2000

Denafrips Pontus II

The Best R2R DAC Under $2000

denfrips pontus ii image

Specifications:

  • Power Consumption(0db@1kHz): ≤20W
  • Support Format(DSD): DSD64 (DoP) on Coax/AES/Opt Input; DSD1024* on On USB & I²S Input Only
  • Support Format(PCM): 24bits / 44.1, 48, 88.2, 96, 176.4, 192KHz On All Input; 1536kHz* On USB & I²S Input
  • Digital Input: Coax 1 via RCA, Coax 2 via BNC 75 Ω, TOSLink x 1, AES/EBU x 2, USB2.0 Type B, I²S via HDMI LVDS 
  • Analog Output: RCA at 2.0Vrms, 625 Ω; XLR at 4.0Vrms, 1250 Ω
  • Sampling Mode: Non-Oversampling (NOS)/ Oversampling (OS)

The Pros:

  • Supports up to DSD1024 and PCM1536
  • Excellent Build Quality
  • Good timing and resolution

The Cons:

  • Not Widely Available
  • Higher Power Consumption

Denafrips Pontus II is a step up from your usual R2R DACs with its robust build and zero-noise conversion. The only thing that holds it back in my opinion, is its low availability. 

First things first, Denafrips Pontus II has everything R2R DACs have to offer in terms of Technicality. Maximum support for both PSM and DSD. It has all the outputs and inputs you’ll ever need as well. So no complaints there. 

However, it also draws a lot of power as the price of all these functionalities, which is a fair trade-off. 

Furthermore, it only gets better with the audio quality. The timing is excellent and the resolution is impressive from what I’ve seen so far. It has powerful thumpy bass as well as clear separation in mids. The treble is the brightest I’ve seen in a while. Although I prefer something a little more tame. 

Additionally, the build quality of the Pontus II is robust. It can survive a few drops without any apparent issues from my experience. 

The only major issue with this DAC is that it is not available on any major online markets like amazon or aliexpress at least officially. That made it hard for me to collect it and once I did, I found out that the one I got from Amazon is not covered under the official warranty.

Musician Pegasus

The Best Classic R2R DAC

Specifications:

  • Power Consumption(0db@1kHz): ≤20W
  • Support Format(DSD): DSD64-DoP On All Input, DSD1024* on USB and I²S Input
  • Support Format(PCM): 24bits / 44.1, 48, 88.2, 96, 176.4, 192KHz On All Input; 1536kHz on USB and I²S Input
  • Digital Input: Coaxial via RCA, Optical, USB, AES/EBU and I²S via HDMI LVDS
  • Analog Output: RCA at 2.0Vrms, 625 Ω; XLR at 4.0Vrms, 1250 Ω
  • Sampling Mode:  Non-Oversampling (NOS)/ Oversampling (OS)

The Pros:

  • Amazing USB Stage
  • Maxed out DAC capabilities
  • Punchy Bass
  • Detailed Mids
  • No Grains

The Cons:

  • Subpar Treble
  • Overtaken by Newer DACs

I’ll start off with the technicalities, and the Musician Pegasus R2R DAC has remained in the peak until recently. It is now falling behind the modern DACs. It lacks USB-C as well as some of the more modern functionalities in the latest R2R DACs.  

Moving on to audio, it has been an amazing contender that still doesn’t lose out by a whole lot in a Denafrips Ponto vs Musician Audio Pegasus situation. The only flaw I’ve noticed in the DAC is a faint presence of background noise. 


But beyond that, It has amply deep bass, clear mids and bright treble that rolls off with little to no noise. This was the peak of R2R DAC last year, but newer ones have already improved on it.

Best R2R DACs Under $4000

Musician Aquarius R2R DAC

The Best Premium R2R DAC

Specifications:

  • Power Consumption(0db@1kHz): ≤20W
  • Support Format(DSD): DSD64-DoP On All Input, DSD1024* on USB and I²S Input
  • Support Format(PCM): 24bits / 44.1, 48, 88.2, 96, 176.4, 192KHz On All Input; 1536kHz on USB and I²S Input
  • Digital Input: USB x 1, AES/EBU x 1, Optical x 1, Coaxial x 1,  I²S x 2
  • Analog Output: RCA at 2.0Vrms, 625 Ω; XLR at 4.0Vrms, 1250 Ω
  • Sampling Mode: Non-Oversampling (NOS)/ Oversampling (OS)

The Pros:

  • Excellent Audio Quality
  • Spacious Sound Staging
  • Good number of Inputs
  • Supports all DSD and PCM

The Cons:

  • Very Pricey
  • No USB-C

The only DAC I’ll be mentioning in the sub-$4000 bracket is the Musician Aquarius R2R DAC. This one is the latest flagship R2R DAC from Musician. 

In terms of technicalities, Musician Aquarius is the cream of the crop. There is literally nothing it lacks when it comes to functionality. Excellent filters, Any inputs you could need and all the possible outputs. 

Even beyond that, It supports both PCM and DSD to maximum capability and lacks nothing spec-wise. In addition to that, the trend continues into the audio territory as the Musician Aquarius powers through every aspect cleanly and detailedly. 

Well-defined bass, spacious soundstage, bright treble, clear vocals and instrumental separation- there is no lacking in this department at all. Furthermore, it can drive almost any high-end audio equipment. It’s simply an unparalleled DAC for audiophiles. 

The only real drawback to this R2R DAC is its hefty price tag. Another one would be a lack of USB-C input. That’s literally all that I have to complain about when it comes to the Aquarius. 

How to Properly Use an R2R DAC?

If you’re new to the world of DACs, this is important. But you can skip this if you’re a skilled professional. 

Some wise man said, “Audio is a lot like coffee.” That’s because there’s an expensive way and a cheaper way to do things.  For example, You may choose to upgrade an AMP before getting A proper DAC and incur losses.

And there’s, of course, a simple way to do things and a complicated way. So which one does this fall under?

If you’re not aware yet, you’ve proudly selected the complicated and expensive way, the deadly duo.

I mean, you wouldn’t have been on this page otherwise. In this section, I will break this down as if this is your first-day using DACs. 

Step 1: Setting Up Your DAC and Amplifier

The first thing you’ll have to do is take your DAC and your amplifier. Plug in the power cables on both your DAC and amplifier. 

Step 2: Selecting the Output

Select the output that you’re going to use for the DAC. Let’s use USB, for example. Plug in one end into your computer and the other end into the DAC.

Step 3: Selecting Between RCA or XLR

You have to select the port to run from the DAC to the amplifier. This would transfer the analog signal from the DAC to the amplifier.

A suitable XLR cable might come in handy when you’re doing this. 

Step 4: Turning The System On

At this point, the system should be a fully functioning DAC and amp combo. But make sure to double-check the input and check if the power is perfect. 

Step 5: Burning in

This is the final step, your system should be completely functional now. Burning in is basically keeping it on for a long period of time to make sure everything works. According to some, this can help them work as they should. 

After this you’re done. I’ll now answer some of the frequently asked questions before concluding the article. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is R2R DAC?

R2R DACs are DACs that utilize R-2R Resistor format, to directly convert audio from digital to analogue to avoid any sort of digital processing.

R2R DACs are the first form of DACs and Delta Sigma DACs are a more modern implementation that also processes the sounds. 

Are R2R DACs Waterproof?

No, R2R DACs are not waterproof. DACs are built to last, but not built to last through extreme environments. None of the components inside an R2R DAC is not waterproof. If you splash water on your DAC, chances are you’ll end up with a dead DAC. 

What is R2R audio?

R2R audio is basically raw unprocessed audio that just got converted from the source by an R2R ladder DAC. Many audiophiles prefer the ‘purity’ of the sound that the R2R audio is marketed to be. 

Final Words

As we’ve said, choosing this route is the more expensive and complicated way. So you’re already aware of what your upcoming challenges would be. 

While some of you might move away from the R2R system, I think the system is still viable. It’s definitely not a dying breed. 

We were able to pick the top one after evaluating a few options. I mean, there aren’t quite a few options to begin with. 

With that said, I think the DRACO is the best R2R DAC that you can go for in this budget. 

Thanks to you guys for reading. Good luck with your hobby. Catch you guys at the next discussion about DACs.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top