I can’t speak for others, but I’ve never tried to get a DAC to sound like vinyl replay. Some have a more “analogue” presentation to them, which is really about smoothness and coherence and lack of digital “hash” or “glare”, and I find that desirable - but I don’t really liken it to actual vinyl.
I have an Yggdrasil Analog 2/USB Gen 5 sitting right under my desk and while it certainly has a more analogue sense to it’s delivery than many comparable DACs, again, it doesn’t sound like vinyl (in many ways, particularly technically, it’s superior).
Playing a properly-done needle-drop through a smooth-sounding DAC sounds more like vinyl replay, from the source in question (e.g. my personal turntable), than any CD or download I’ve played through the same DAC.
Which is really just saying that a good DAC, playing a good needle drop is as close to transparent as matters - and while it will impart its own signature on top of what was captured, along with what the ADC and input stage contribute, it’s a relatively small divergence compared to the natural signature of vinyl in the first place.
As for the Puffin vs. the GS Reflex Era Gold, I wouldn’t expect the Puffin to beat it out sonically. I could see the Puffin having a more accurate RIAA EQ implementation, but I would expect the Graham Slee unit to be a little ahead on noise performance.
As to which sounds better overall … I can’t say without having them side by side. Some of it will depend on what cartridge you’re running (or planning to run) as well.
Fundamentally, what I’m getting through the Puffin still sounds like vinyl. And I like it a bit better than the Schiit Mani (recent version - as it seems there may have been a silent revision there, as the one I have sounds different to the one I had before). But that’s reasonable given the rather large price difference.
Beyond that …
I’ve used a number of phono stages over the years, including things like the Pro-Ject Phono Box MM, Mani, Tube-Box, Musical Fidelity V-LPS, RSA Nighthawk, Phono-Box RS, Lehmann Black Cube SE II, EAR 834P, and the various Linn phono-stages (some dedicated, some built-into integrated amps, most recently those in the DSM product line). And of all of those, the only one that really gave me pause before committing to the built-in stage on my current DSM was the EAR. I think that was more down to the effects of the tubes than it being more accurate or resolving or anything.
But with my main tables, once I switched to a Linn DSM unit as my primary source (and “pre-amp”), I’ve been using it’s built-in phono-stage, which uses discrete solid-state analog circuitry for the initial gain stage, and then the output from that is digitized via the very-high-quality ADC in the Linn (which is also used to digitize any other analog input it is fed*). And that has accurately and readily reflected every tweak or change I’ve made to the table, be it different arms/cartrigdes/tables, or just tweaking VTA, VTF, zenith, azimuth, overhang and RPM for a specific cartridge - to a greater extent than any of the pure-analog phono-pres I’ve used.
And it has, again, always sounded fundamentally like vinyl.