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Do I need to pay attention to my DAC choice?

zenpmd

New member
I know Harbeth is a bit agnostic when it comes to amp choices, but I don't see much discussion of DACs. Not in terms of "synergy" since the only dacs I am looking at seek to me neutral, but should I spend a good portion of money on one (with a pre), up to, say £2000?

For example getting one with really low noise and little distortion? Thanks!
 

Pluto

New member
DACS - done and dusted?

DACS - done and dusted?

but I don't see much discussion of DACs.
That's probably because there is little to discuss.

Discussion of DACs, such as it is, appears to revolve around the distinctions between units that endeavour to achieve the best possible result, and those that appear to resort to outmoded devices or unsound practices to achieve a different presentation, which their proponents attempt to sell as being a more 'musical' approach, in spite of the obvious technical imperfections.
 

Kumar Kane

New member
DACs - another money spinner?

DACs - another money spinner?

I know Harbeth is a bit agnostic when it comes to amp choices, but I don't see much discussion of DACs.
Using the same test protocols for DACs as are used for amp comparisons, I would be very surprised to see added value in any external DAC, as long as the built in DAC of the source you are seeking to enhance is of recent - as in the last 2-3 years - vintage.

So if you think you are hearing improvements, be sure that they aren't due to expectation bias and sound level differences before spending money on one. Or they aren't due to filters used in the external DAC, which work in a manner akin to tone controls. So if your comparison is with any DAC with filter employed in the sound chain, it isn't an apples to apples comparison with a DAC that doesn't have any. Just as it would be if you compared the sound from an amp without tone controls with one where the tone controls have been applied.
 

planetsoun

New member
$100 perfection?

$100 perfection?

If you just require technical acceptability, even $100USD products are so accurate that their errors are "theoretically" below the threshold of human detection. But to my ears, there are still good and bad sounding ones and only a handful that have ever come close to fooling me I was hearing a real voice instead of a computerized representation of one.
 

willem

Well-known member
I have never been able to hear differences between good amplifiers (although replacing almost all old parts on my 42 year old Quad 33-303 was an improvement, and very visible on the scope). I know for certain that at the lower end a better DAC makes an audible difference, but I doubt good ones can be distinguished quite so easily. I have a few secondary systems in the family, and those use computers as a source. This review http://nwavguy.blogspot.nl/2011/02/behringer-uca202-review.html persuaded me that even a dirt cheap Behringer UCA 202 external DAC could improve on the motherboard DAC's of the computers. And indeed the DAC's on the two laptops in the house could easily be beaten by this 25 euro device. The same applied to the DAC on the motherboard of an older desktop, but not so much to the motherboard DAC of a more recent high quality desktop. The differences were also more obvious with quality speakers like the Tannoy DC6 and Rogers LS3/5a than with modest speakers like the Wharfedale Diamond 9.0's in my son's room (they were inaudible through a Tivoli Model 2 table radio). These differences were big enough that no fancy listening methodology was needed, and they make sense. Even this very cheap DAC measures so well that one probably needs quite fancy speakers to hear any improvements from a better DAC. The LS3/5a's sound just fine when fed from this DAC.
This is obviously the very bottom end of the market (though the Behringer measures rather better than many fancier DAC's), so it may well be a good idea to spend some more if it is used in a more revealing system. The million dollar question is how much more is sensible. This site http://nwavguy.blogspot.nl/2012/04/odac-released.html quite persuasively argues that you do not need to spend that much more to have a DAC that is equal to the very best in the market. And to prove his point he designed his own and made the design freely available for others to produce (sold for 100 pounds in the UK as the E-DAC by Epiphany). I did not yet buy one, but even if I had done that I think this is a level where only proper double blind tests can decide if there are still differences with other good DAC's, or not. Unfortunately the HiFi press consistently avoids doing such serious tests, and instead sticks to uncontrolled subjective observations. I would really like to see if there are any systematic and controlled experiments on the audio quality of ambitious modern DAC's. My hunch is that you are better off spending money on good speakers.
If you are interested in a pre-amp as well, and have only limited need for controls or a multitude of inputs, the DSpeaker Antimode dual core may be your thing: DAC, pre-amp and very good room equalization all rolled into one tiny and affordable package.
Willem
 
G

Gregl

Guest
Synchronous DAC?

Synchronous DAC?

I have never been able to hear differences between good amplifiers (although replacing almost all old parts on my 42 year old Quad 33-303 was an improvement, and very visible on the scope). I know for certain that at the lower end a better DAC makes an audible difference, but I doubt this applies to good ones...
If you are interested in a pre-amp as well, and have only limited need for controls or a multitude of inputs, the DSpeaker Antimode dual core may be your thing: DAC, pre-amp and very good room equalization all rolled into one tiny and affordable package.
Willem
Maybe this will help a good dac for the money with no filters which some seem to say that's like a tone controls. I'm told here there is no way you can hear the difference. I thought that's what tone controls are suppose to do change the sound or maybe I'm not understanding what somebody said. Seems to be a lot of contradictions flying around here I cannot hear any difference in filters. But i was able to hook up two dacs and get he levels matched to about 1 db which i know wont pass the grey poupon here. Switching between the two took 3 seconds. Maybe this will get the Harbeth police off my ass! probably not. Some of these replies are to technical. I think there are two important things you should look at asynchronous and a dac when it upsamples which most do it can do 88.2/176.4 /352.8. My opinion ONLY! The peachtree is a beautiful sounding dac. And it's well built. Also if just using iTunes or software such as Amarra, Pure music, Audirvana you will love it. Also the Wyre4sound is nice too. The peachtree is a great value. It would be a good choiceJust my OPINION AGAIN!. Lets hope the snoody police will like my revision. Once again these are opinions and under copyright of me. Also understand I'm no A.S. or Nessuno, Pluto senior member by the way. So since I'm not I will refrain myself from giving anymore opinions since the hounds of hell will be at my doorstep. Maybe a few of us need to have a Zannax and a beer I like Boddingtons and Newcastle they go great with the euphoria of the Zannax.
Good luck

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Nessuno

Member
How can you be sure?

How can you be sure?

If you just require technical acceptability, even $100USD products are so accurate that their errors are "theoretically" below the threshold of human detection. But to my ears, there are still good and bad sounding ones and only a handful that have ever come close to fooling me I was hearing a real voice instead of a computerized representation of one.
The threshold of human hearing is something not only "theoretical", but factual and measurable under various conditions with properly conducted tests. Maybe you have finer ears than average, but before positively telling to be able to perceive differences between DACs and so plain and straight as night and day (as it seems to me you're implying), you have tried under properly conducted tests, i. e. double blind, level matched and time aligned samples, no other telltales etc... do you?
 

A.S.

Administrator
Staff member
Impossible on all counts

Impossible on all counts

The threshold of human hearing is something not only "theoretical", but factual and measurable under various conditions with properly conducted tests. Maybe you have finer ears than average, but before positively telling to be able to perceive differences between DACs and so plain and straight as night and day (as it seems to me you're implying), you have tried under properly conducted tests, i. e. double blind, level matched and time aligned samples, no other telltales etc... do you?
I'm sory to have to say this (yet) again, but unless you arrange to compare DACs (or amplifiers or anything actually) under controlled conditions where there is no more than a maximum of a second or so of a gap between A and B, you might as well flip a coin. I would. You have as good a chance of reaching the best choice.

There is absolutely no way, no way at all, for even the most gifted listener to be able to arrive at a valid, factual, objective conclusion about the merits of something as perfect as a DAC (compared to the human ear) if that 'comparison' involves swapping around cables and a long silence. It simply cannot be done that way.

This is not Alan Shaw's personal theory: the paucity of human memory is at the heart of psychoacoustics and human perception awareness and a little reading around the subject would pay massive dividends for the serious investigator. This forum is definitely not the place to advertise the costly investment in accessories which perform many times better than the very best human ear. If, however, the claims can be supported with details of how a controlled comparison was undertaken, what confounding variables were addressed and regulated, we really are most interested in the results, and empowered to repeat the procedure for ourselves.

Fair enough?

BTW: Background research: I strongly recommend you watch this clip in its entirety

Key points: LOUDNESS defines everything. The handbag thief incident is very worrying indeed.
 

zenpmd

New member
Paying for functionality?

Paying for functionality?

Very interesting stuff, thanks guys. I think part of what you pay for with half decent dacs with pres built in is a good volume control, a nice feel, a decent remote and those tactile qualities cannot be overlooked, in my opinion.

At the moment at home I am listening through some beyerdynamic 770 headphones and comparing a Nufoce HDP Dac/Pre/Headamp and the Benchmark Dac2 HGC, the price difference is big, but the difference is big as well. I make no terms of sorcery, but the Benchmark is just much less noisy and much less distorted and much more balanced. I suppose at that level there will be differences, but at anything above the Benchmark I assume such differences are extremely marginal at best.

Alan - what is your view on linear power supplies and all of that ilk? Sorry for the direct questions but this site seems to be the only place on the internet where the truth can be found.
 

A.S.

Administrator
Staff member
Power supplies

Power supplies

Alan - what is your view on linear power supplies and all of that ilk? Sorry for the direct questions but this site seems to be the only place on the internet where the truth can be found.
I'm not quite sure what you're seeking, but surely a well designed PSU is nothing more or less exotic than a fancy battery that lasts forever. How can that be exciting in any way or truly upgradeable other than to provide more volts or more current, or both?

Designing perfect PSUs is probably the most mature part of electronic design because from audio equipment through washing machines and space vehicles, a robust, well designed PSU is vital. Every trick in the book has been thoroughly explored by two generations of designers and it is beyond credibility that somehow, miraculously, any circuit novelty can be discovered at this late stage in the game that the normal forces of competition (size, cost, reliability, heat dissipation, protection) have not already flushed out.
 

Pluto

New member
Outboard PSUs and filtering

Outboard PSUs and filtering

what is your view on linear power supplies and all of that ilk? Sorry for the direct questions but this site seems to be the only place on the internet where the truth can be found.
The truth is that there are good and bad implementations of all these approaches. You cannot universally declare, "linear good, switched-mode bad".

I know audiophiles like to be able to compartmentalize; it helps to be able to keep things simple, but real life isn't like that. I find it odd that audiophiles will berate, say, a DAC for its use of a switched-mode supply, yet be quite happy buying vinyl records that have been made on a console which uses an enormous industrial grade 100A switched-mode supply!

Power supplies are a particularly thorny question. Nobody likes "wall-warts" but we have lots of them for a real reason: the CE regulations (similarly, the FCC declaration in the USA) lay down requirements that are more or less economically impossible for a small manufacturer to meet, so the workaround is to confine lethal mains voltages to an insulated outboard component, {often procured from a specialist third party}. Anyone building an electronic module dependent upon such a supply will take the variability of the supply into consideration, and provide appropriate filtering and additional regulation within his module. Wall warts vary from simple transformers (with or without rectifiers) all the way up to state of the art DC supplies and the equipment designer will make a decision – quality and budget all being considered.

So while a DAC may appear to use a cheap switched-mode wall-wart, you may have little idea about any further power supply regulation and filtering which take place inside the DAC unit itself. It pays not to jump to quick and easy conclusions, especially when founded upon internet hearsay.
 

zenpmd

New member
Digital source

Digital source

Thanks Pluto. The content in which I am investigating them is in a computer, as a digital source.
 

Pluto

New member
*Asynchronous* USB DACs - essential

*Asynchronous* USB DACs - essential

One area of real advancement in DAC technology over the last few years has been the Asynchronous USB input. I need not go into detail here – there are plenty of good references to be read – but suffice it to say that such an input will allow a DAC to operate entirely on its own internal clock, alleviating any need for the unit to lock itself to an incoming clock signal of unpredictable and highly variable quality. Even if that incoming clock was perfect, the circuits necessary to enable locking to an external clock themselves cause a deterioration in clock quality, which has a direct effect upon the sound.

For these reasons I suggest that, in the typical domestic environment, the best source now available is likely to be a computer, connected to the asynchronous USB input of a good quality DAC. Audio playback is a very lightweight duty for even the smallest laptops these days – in fact, some would suggest that a laptop, powered off its internal battery (supported by trickle charging via the mains) is the way to go!
 

JackL

New member
Dreaming of upgrded sound?

Dreaming of upgrded sound?

I apologize if this is the wrong thread. If so please redirect me. I have the same question about preamps.

I am using a Marantz AV8801 pre/pro in a two channel system with two Compact 7's and two subs. Would I hear a dramatic increase in sound quality if I replaced the Marantz with a hi-end stereo preamp? Thanks for your thoughts.
 

willem

Well-known member
Just relax!

Just relax!

No there is no reason a separate pre amp should sound any better than your excellent av amp. In fact, if you would allow yourself to be seduced by the sellers of expensive audiophile gear, the sound may actually be less neutral/accurate.

So just relax and enjoy. Do use the room eq of your system to tune your subs.
 

witwald

Active member
Don't expect a dramatic increase in sound quality

Don't expect a dramatic increase in sound quality

I am using a Marantz AV8801 pre/pro in a two channel system with two Compact 7's and two subs. Would I hear a dramatic increase in sound quality if I replaced the Marantz with a hi-end stereo preamp?
The Marantz AV8801 preamplifier seems like it's a good unit. It has a wide and flat frequency response, low distortion and high signal-to-noise ratios on the analog inputs and the digital-to-analog outputs. The matching MM8077 power amplifier seems equally good, with a decent 100 WRMS in two-channel mode into 8 ohms.

If you changed your preamplifier, it is most unlikely that the new one would perform audibly better than the AV8801. However, there are probably other preamplifiers on the market that have a nonlinear frequency response and much higher distortion levels and poorer signal to noise ratios. These would sound different, but they would certainly not be better in terms of their sound quality.
 

Mbot7

New member
I do believe slight sound differences exist between various DACs, even the more recent high-end ones.

But I suspect that some of these differences are less to do with the DAC and more to do with the firmware implemented by the manufacturer in the playback unit.

I have a DAP (using the Android OS but it's not a smartphone, it's a dedicated Digital Audio Player) where in its Pure Mode (audio-signal bypassing the Android OS and running through the manufacturer's custom firmware) it has a certain character and warmth to it, but when I switch the unit to Android Mode and play the music back through the stock Google Music Player (as found on all Android smartphones) the sound becomes neutral bit-for-bit perfect to the source with no warmth or quirky character to it.

I for one prefer a neutral sound with no warmth or character (purist - yes) and so after initially being hugely disappointed with my expensive purchase of the DAP, I was relieved to discover that the initial disappointing listening sessions were down to the manufacturers questionable coding, and not down to any quirk in the DAC itself (actually, dual AK4490EN DACs in DAP).

I say buy a recent DAP with a good DAC in it. That way you can use it's USB/DAC functionality to augment your computer audio files, but also you can use it as a portable music player, and as a source for your home HiFi equipment.
 

willem

Well-known member
It does show that even cheap DACs are not something to worry about (unless they are audiophile units that have been tweaked to be different). Typical measurements are even better than for power amplifiers. What bothers me a bit is that this has not translated into an abundance in the market of properly specified units. My ideal DAC would be a unit with volume control to serve as a pre amplifier, and enough digital inputs for all situations, i.e. usb, plus two optical and two coaxial inputs. Most standalone DACs seem to have just one optical and one coaxial input, which is at least one short for a typical range of digital sources (disc player, television and a streamer like a Chromecast Audio). Sadly, Teac's new UD 503 has one each, whereas its predecessor the UD 501 had two of each.
 
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