2024’s Best Digital Playback | Buyers Guide 2024

2024's best digital

Welcome to 2024’s Best Digital Playback for the Part-Time Audiophile Buyers Guide.

We’re not saying that these are the “best” digital playback products or that these choices somehow overrule anyone else’s favorites. We’re saying that these are the products we’ve reviewed, owned, or have had extended experience when it comes to performance and sound quality. This is the gear that we, the staff of Part-Time Audiophile, recommend.

2024’s Best Digital Players

2024’s Best Digital Playback portion of our buyers guide is broken down into subcategories, such as DACs, Servers and Streamers, Digital Music Streaming, Transports and SACD Players. Each section is organized by price in ascending order. Enjoy!



iFi ZEN Blue V2 ($199 USD)

Yes, we’re including a Bluetooth option, because truth be told this is the perfect gateway device for allowing the kids (or grandkids) of the digital age a chance to take the wheel of any major (or minor) hi-fi system. The reason we chose the iFi ZEN Blue V2 is that it sounds amazing right out of the box, will connect to virtually anything with a Bluetooth signal, and features one of the better DACs based on the ESS chipset. Features include digital, single-ended, and balanced outputs.


Merason Frerot with POW1 LPSU ($1,650 + $1,100 USD)

Small, simple and relatively inexpensive for the performance it offers, this DAC is perfect for audiophiles who don’t require a lot of bells and whistles but do want superb sound quality. We found the Swiss-built Merason Frerot to be perfect for streaming Qobuz, and for mating with an equally high-value streamer like the Innuos Zen Mini Mk. 3. Optional Pow1 LPSU improves sound quality across the board. A Reviewer’s Choice winner.

2024's best digital

BorderPatrol SE-i DAC (starting at $1,525 USD)

Measurements, schmeasurements—do yourself a favor and try this BorderPatrol DAC. Yes, it’s a Redbook-only converter, and yes, it sports NOS chips. And so what? Chances are, you’ve never heard digital like this, and certainly at nowhere near its price. There is no oversampling, no up-sampling, and no filtering. This is “do no harm,” taken seriously. Add a choke-input and tube rectified power supply, and forget David, here you have an Audio Goliath. Clear, open, transparent, sound flows forth like sweet water poured from the hands of friendly, loving gods. According to the musicians who made it, this was how your music was supposed to sound.

2024's best digital

Denafrips Pontus II (starting at $2,018 USD)

A Chinese-built DAC sold directly through a Singapore source, the Pontus sounds more like a risky purchase than a representation of 2024’s best digital playback. We got one, tested it, and discovered that it featured a “lot of cutting-edge DAC tech” and that “the price is certainly right.” “It sounded so good we’re curious about how much better the higher level Denafrips DACs are,” we concluded.

cec da5

CEC DA5 (starting at $2,701 USD)

From the Japanese company that gave us belt-drive digital transports back in the ’90s, this DAC was exceptionally easy to install, use, and the sound quality across several types of formats and upsampling rates was consistently excellent. (DSD is strongly supported.) When combined with the classic TL-5 transport, the CEC duo becomes a playback powerhouse at under the $6K mark and one of 2024’s best digital playback solutions. A Reviewers Choice winner.

lab 12 dac1

Lab12 DAC1 ($3,290 USD)

Like most products from this Greek company, this tubed DAC is built around a distinguished level of playback that stands out from other converters at this price point. The DAC1 excels at presenting some of the most “analog” sound we’ve heard streaming, a sound that’s relaxed and open. We certainly consider the Lab12 DAC to offer some of 2024’s best digital playback for anywhere near the cost. A Reviewers Choice Award winner.

2024's best digital

Ideon Ayazi Mk. 2 DAC ($3,490 USD) + 3R Master Time ($3,900 USD)

The Ayazi, built in Greece, excelled at uncovering inner detail and being incredibly silent–the two. of course, go hand in hand as digital players.  We “consistently achieved excellent sound from several sources and wildly different systems, and it provided us with a clear view of what the big DACs can do.” A Reviewer’s Choice winner, along with the companion 3R Master Time Re-Clocking Platform. When added between any DAC and the source, the 3R “music tightened up and the overall presentation was much easier to take in all at once.”

holo audio may

Holo Audio May KTE ($5,598 USD)

Holo Audio is known for its use of a discrete R2R topology for its digital players which converts digital-to-analog by utilization of a Resistor Ladder circuit, with native support for DSD1024 and PCM up to 1.536MHz. Holo Audio also states that the new linear compensation circuitry resulting from the use of resistors has addressed many of the issues with NOS DACs. The May KTE presents “auditory honesty in such a refined way that you can’t help but want to listen to music.” A Reviewers Choice winner.

2024's best digital

Merason DAC-1 ($6,000 USD) 

We felt that while there are many excellent DACs out there for around the same amount of money, the Merason is one of the best digital players we’ve heard at any price–so much so that we would still be impressed with it if it was far more expensive. Sonically, it can go toe-to-toe with plenty of the big boy DACs. “What you get is a product that seems to be built for the audiophile that is primarily interested in performance and doesn’t require a lot of fancy features or gold-plated-with-a-screen visuals.”

auralic vega
AURALiC Vega G2.2 ($7,899 USD)

The latest iteration of the Vega G2 streaming DAC includes the fascinating new Fusion DAC, which uses an off the shelf DAC chip to perform the very last step in the digital to analog conversion process (the actual transformation into the analog wave form), but every other feature of the DAC chip has been disabled and bypassed. “What I found with the AURALiC Vega G2.2 was everything I loved about the original, but simply more of it, more detail, more space, more realism.” A Reviewers Choice winner.

merason dac-1 mk.II

Merason DAC-1 Mk.II ($8,000 USD)

Merason has done more than just improve their stunning DAC-1–the Mk. II is different enough of a product so that this Swiss company can keep both converters in their line-up. The Mk. II contains 12 separate power supplies, two DAC modules and two output channels each that are supplied by a separate linear supply with an oversized transformer. Review forthcoming.

meitner ma3

Meitner MA3 ($10,500 USD)

The Meitner MA3 works as both a streamer and a DAC—plug it into a router via ethernet and you can run Roon or Meitner’s own application. “One of those rare digital players that is good enough to live up to the price point. It is vanishingly transparent, fast, smooth and incredibly wide bandwidth.”  A Reviewers Choice award winner.

Digital Players

TotalDAC d1-tube-mk 2 (9,900 eu)

This R2R Ladder DAC from France truly impressed us with its inclusion of a tube line stage and its “simply massive detail, especially in the high frequencies.” Despite the tubes, we found that the TotalDAC delivers a sound where “clean is the name of the game,” except when you run things in NOS mode and discover the musical presentation is more rounded and organic–the best of both worlds! A Reviewer’s Choice award winner.

2024's best digital

Mola Mola Tambaqui ($13,400 USD)

If the Mola Mola Tambaqui were a city, it would be Utrecht. It’s prim and proper by all appearances, the manicured image of perfection, and yet beneath it all it still has that signature Dutch warmth and character, even if a little more formally served than in Amsterdam. The Mola Mola Tambaqui is ultra-fi digital sprinkled with a little extra sonic coziness, and taken down the price ladder several rungs.

1543 DAC

Computer Audio Design 1543 ($15,000 USD)

Although this British-made DAC is about to be replaced with a Mk. II edition, which we will soon review, we were able to test the original DAC with the CAD Ground Control GC1.1 for a quiet, superb and very analog-like sound. When it comes to DACs, the CAD absolutely belongs in a list of 2024’s best digital playback.

2024's best digital

dCS Bartok (starting at $19,950 USD)

A descendant of the classic Rossini and Vivaldi DACs from dCS, the Bartok digital players also include a wonderful headphone amplifier, making it the perfect base camp for some high-wire headphone listening and digital streaming. It’s the sound that we look for “in the best analog rigs and what digital aspires to sound like.” Several years after its debut, the Bartok still belongs with 2024’s best digital playback.


LampizatOr Pacific DAC (starting at $27,000 USD)

We felt that the sound of this LampizatOr DAC was “deeply impressive,” and it changed the way we interpreted digital audio. This is a particularly sweet-sounding DAC, an “all-out assault on digital conversion” that’s incredibly musical and satisfying. Still considered as one of 2024’s best digital converters, barring none.

Servers and Streamers


Naim Mu-so 2nd Generation ($1,799 USD) 

The second generation of the original Naim Mu-so digital players are such an addictive one-box solution–it’s what got some of us into streaming in the first place. You get multiple streaming choices, internet radio and all sorts of wireless digital connectivity options–now you can even attach it to your Smart TV and use it as a stellar sound bar thanks to those impressive drivers packed into this compact box. Still the most interesting table radio ever made, because it can be so much more.

2024's best digital

Innuos Zen Mini Mk. 3 (starting at $1,849 USD)

We found this all-in-one music server, streamer and DAC to be the perfect argument for finally getting rid of your CD collection. Easy to use, with all functions accessible through the wonderful Innuos app, the Zen Mini Mk. 3 was the “last hint we needed to enter a world without physical media, at least the digital kind.” The LPSU should be considered essential just for the mere improvements to the overall sound quality. The quality and value of this server makes it one of 2024’s best digital servers.

matrix audio

Matrix Audio Element M2 ($3,099 USD)

While it did lack the ultimate “you are there” mid-bass authenticity of more expensive streamers, the Element H2 won us over because it was physically elegant and unobtrusive. It worked mostly without a hitch, and the overall user experience was vastly superior to most reference-level streamers, adding it to the list of 2024’s best digital.

innuos pulsar

Innuos Pulsar ($7,999 USD)

Although PTA is quite smitten with Innuos music servers, we found that the flagship model of their new Pulse network streamer line was incredibly easy to use and offered a sound quality that made some of us declare we’d never use our laptop computers for streaming Qobuz ever again. Beautiful build quality as well, and the app is superb and easily integrated. Review forthcoming on one of 2024’s best digital playback devices.


Innuos Statement Music Server (starting at $18,900 USD)

This two-box server plays all file formats and offers stupendous sound quality as long as connect with USB, which is the only option. Every system we “dropped it into, no matter how good, sounded better with the Statement at the front of the chain.” While we considered the stock Statement to be one of the finest digital players available, the new NEXTGEN power supply, an extra $5,000, brings even more clarity and less noise to the mix. An Editor’s Choice winner.


Aurender A30 Music Server ($19,000 USD)

This is an audiophile-grade server, with 8TB (!) of storage, with a killer DAC included that has all the best numbers: “768KHz/32bit dual-mono DAC designed around the AKM AK4497 chipset, with support for “native” DSD at up to 8x.” By the way, it’s also a full-function preamp that can be hooked up to your favorite amp by either RCA or XLR. Expensive, but not for what it does: “For the rest of us, the Aurender A30 is an excellent end of the line.” An Editor’s Choice winner.

marc phillips system

Antipodes Oladra ($29,000 USD)

Intended for digital playback systems that are already state-of-the-art, this server from New Zealand is incredibly well-built and has so many features that we found it difficult to review thoroughly, at least without dedicating enormous amounts of time–maybe years–to learning everything it can do. The ultimate music server that will convince you to rip your entire digital music collection and sell everything to the highest bidder, the Oladra provides “a world without limits, where I could do anything I wanted, and it all sounded magnificent in a strangely easy way.” A Reviewers Choice winner.

Music Streaming

Audirvana Origin ($119.99 USD)

This audiophile music playback software , the latest from Audirvana, offers seemingly endless options for upsampling and adds a new algorithm, r8brain, as an option alongside SOX. “In addition to learning to navigate the interface better,” our reviewer concluded, ” I learned a lot about DSD vs PCM and the current DAC in my system. And to top it off, the Audio Scan tool is something I’ll use a lot.” One of 2024’s best digital products, and a Reviewers Choice winner.


Qobuz Music Streaming (individual Studio Premier plans start at $14.99 USD per month)

High-resolution streaming, unlimited access to music and digital liner notes. Everything needed for deep dives into your favorite genre or artist is at your fingertips. Discovery is also part of the plan, as Qobuz curated playlists can become the perfect discovery tool.


Radiooooo, The Musical Time Machine (Listen Free or Annual Plan for $49 USD) 

What started as a project between friends in France, turned into a world-wide collaborative effort to catalog music from around the world, decade by decade, along the lines of a curated aesthetic. Almost everything we’ve heard on Radiooooo is a certified banger thanks to the work of curators and contributors bringing their A-game to the table when it comes to submitting rare gems and cultural standards to the music pool. Worth the annual subscription, and keep your pen and paper handy.

Transports and CD/SACD Players

rotel cd14mk11

Rotel CD14MKII ($799 USD)

Rotel once made affordable CD players that brought excellent digital sound to the masses for the first time, and the new CD14MkII captures much of that pioneering spirit. The CD14 is much more of a modern machine, obviously, with plenty of connectivity options. We found it to be a brilliant match with the Audio by Van Alstine DVA Digital Preamplifier.

2024's best digital

Sparkler Audio S503 Spiral Disc Player ($1,500 USD)

This simple top-loading CD player from the mind of the former head designer of 47 Laboratories is old-fashioned through and through. But with Sparkler Audio’s Ether integrated amplifier, the sound was clean and up-front. The Spiral is one of 2024’s best digital media players we’ve heard at this price, and it can also be used as just a transport. Finicky operation, but still well worth the modest cost.

sparkler audio

Sparkler Audio S515u “Ballade” CD Player ($1,995 USD)

An intriguing new answer to the question of whether or not you should buy a new CD player after your present one dies. The tiny Japanese-made Ballade, brought to North America by Victor Kung of VK Music, is digital playback that relies on the parts that sound the best, rather than the fanciest new chip. Old-school in its scope, the S515u nevertheless offers incredible sound quality–and its minimalism, over time, becomes downright charming. A Reviewers Choice award winner.

cec tl-5

CEC TL-5 Transport (starting at $2,199 USD)

The latest version of the classic CEC belt-drive transport is still here, still relevant, and perhaps one of the quietest transports we’ve heard despite its basic cosmetics and very reasonable price. With the DA5 DAC from CEC, the TL-5 represents an exquisite solution for audiophiles who still want to hear their redbook CDs in all their glory without having to rip their entire music collections to a server. A Reviewers Choice winner.

digital players

Audio Note UK CDT One/II ($4,958 USD)

It’s strange to think that a “mere” CD transport can impact the sound of digital playback despite the DAC used, but the CDT One/II is essential for maintaining that open, lively and full-range Audio Note UK sound that favors tonality most of all. It’s a very intriguing choice among 2024’s best digital players. Review forthcoming.

If you would like to hear even more on our choices for the 2024 Buyers Guide, check out our tips, picks and highlights in our audiophile-oriented show The Occasional Podcast. You can stream the episode direct from the embed below, or from your favorite podcast platform including iTunesAndroidGoogle, Deezer, SpotifyiHeartRadio and more.

Check out the rest of the 2024 Buyers Guide:

Best Bookshelf Speakers

Best Floorstanding Speakers

Best Integrated Amplifiers

Best Power Amplifiers

Best Preamplifiers

Best Turntables

Best Phono Preamplifiers and SUTs

Best Cartridges, Tonearms and Headshells

Best Digital Playback

Best Headphone Gear

Best Cables, Power Management and Grounding

Best Hi-Fi Accessories