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Do all DACs sound more or less the same?


wgscott

Do DACS all sound the same?  

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Nice choices there - I chose several, though they may be mutually exclusive. In my thinking, the differences between DACs are always small when compared to the differences between speakers. The smallest difference is between DAC chips. Differences caused by analog sections, power, galvanic isolation, implementation and all that can fall between the two.

 

Which makes it possible for two DACs with the same DAC chip to sound different. Or conversely, two DACs with different chips to sound the same. Confusing.

 

That one really required some thought. It will be interesting to see what other people say.

Anyone who considers protocol unimportant has never dealt with a cat DAC.

Robert A. Heinlein

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I guess it is confusing to choose, as some are mutually exclusive, and some I will expand on and/or am wording differently.

The ones I chose:

1. All DACs sound the same

2. There are Audible Differences if Defective/poorly designed

3. The difference is small in comparison to speakers

and I probably should have added; 4. Differences due to Analog stages:

 

Why?

I believe that once reaching a minimum level, which is hit by nearly all of the "higher end" couple of hundred to couple of thousand dollar DACs, they will all sound the same. The measurements may show some getting closer to perfect, but our ears are not sensitive enough to pick up on these minor differences- at least mine aren't.

 

However; it is true that not all DACs always sound the same, this is often due to poor design or to reach a price point. I have seen/heard where a poor analog stage is the problem (ie. in my Behringer DEQ that I once used for room correction), but cannot comment as to what else made the difference.

 

It would be hard to hold all things constant in a test in which only the DAC chip or the power supply was changed, and I have not personally done this. As such, I have no opinion on these matters.

 

 

What would constitute a "quantum mechanical effect"?

Flac audio (MBP) to miniDSP 10x10 running REW and active crossovers to ADCOM GFA 555 and 2 QSC GX5's (Tri Amped). Using Paradigm Studio 100 V.2 Speakers modded for the Active Crossover and stereo Velodyne HGS12 subwoofers.

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Surprises me there aren't more votes for readily audible differences due to different DAC chips. The chip is where the filtering is done to convert the digits to music. That in a very real sense is the "sound" of the DAC; the rest is implementation. Implementation of course matters. But saying it doesn't matter how the sound of the DAC was designed through use of filters in the chip is like saying the way a boat was designed doesn't affect the way it sails.

 

Edit: If you would like a demonstration for yourself of how profoundly filters affect the sound, just fire up the free demo versions of HQPlayer on Windows or Linux and Audirvana Plus on OS X. Then choose among different filters in HQPlayer or alter the iZotope oversampling filter parameters in Audirvana Plus. This moves to the computer part or all of the filtering that would ordinarily be done by the DAC chip, and allows you to change it rather than being restricted to the filtering done in the chip in your particular DAC.

One never knows, do one? - Fats Waller

The fairest thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science. - Einstein

Computer, Audirvana -> optical to EtherREGEN -> microRendu -> ISO Regen -> Pro-Ject Pre Box S2 DAC -> Spectral DMC-12 & DMA-150 -> Vandersteen 3A Signature.

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I don't see a choice or choices that align with my view, which is that DACs that satisfy all of the following will be transparent (and thus all sound the same):

 

 

  • Frequency Response 20hz – 19 Khz within +/- 0.1 dB (Most DACs, due to the Nyquist limit of 22 Khz, start to roll off past 19 Khz when operating at 44 Khz sampling rate—the ODAC is down about 0.4 dB at 20 Khz). The widely accepted, but less conservative standard is +/- 0.5 dB (1 dB total variation) from 20 hz to 20 Khz.
  • All Harmonic, IMD, Alias, Modulation, & Crosstalk Components Below –90 dBFS and total sum below –80 dBFS (0.01%)
  • All Noise Components below –110 dB and total sum below –100 dBFS
  • All Jitter Components below –110 dB and total sum below -100 dBFS

There are other measures to completely define transparency, but take care of the above and the rest will have been taken care of.

 

I borrowed the above from what I've found as the most insightful source on the subject: nwavguy NwAvGuy: ODAC Released

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I don't see a choice or choices that align with my view, which is that DACs that satisfy all of the following will be transparent (and thus all sound the same):

 

 

  • Frequency Response 20hz – 19 Khz within +/- 0.1 dB (Most DACs, due to the Nyquist limit of 22 Khz, start to roll off past 19 Khz when operating at 44 Khz sampling rate—the ODAC is down about 0.4 dB at 20 Khz). The widely accepted, but less conservative standard is +/- 0.5 dB (1 dB total variation) from 20 hz to 20 Khz.
  • All Harmonic, IMD, Alias, Modulation, & Crosstalk Components Below –90 dBFS and total sum below –80 dBFS (0.01%)
  • All Noise Components below –110 dB and total sum below –100 dBFS
  • All Jitter Components below –110 dB and total sum below -100 dBFS

There are other measures to completely define transparency, but take care of the above and the rest will have been taken care of.

 

I borrowed the above from what I've found as the most insightful source on the subject: nwavguy NwAvGuy: ODAC Released

 

That's kind of what I was getting at with my choices. You said it far more eloquently though

 

Surprises me there aren't more votes for readily audible differences due to different DAC chips. The chip is where the filtering is done to convert the digits to music. That in a very real sense is the "sound" of the DAC; the rest is implementation. Implementation of course matters. But saying it doesn't matter how the sound of the DAC was designed through use of filters in the chip is like saying the way a boat was designed doesn't affect the way it sails.

 

The problem is that it is difficult to isolate just the DAC chip. As far as I know, the analog stages aren't the same across a lot of companies, while DAC chips are- which is how one could compare/contrast. How might one determine that the chip is the problem?

Flac audio (MBP) to miniDSP 10x10 running REW and active crossovers to ADCOM GFA 555 and 2 QSC GX5's (Tri Amped). Using Paradigm Studio 100 V.2 Speakers modded for the Active Crossover and stereo Velodyne HGS12 subwoofers.

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Please have a look at the following on filters, and why there is no such thing as a transparent DAC. (It's literally mathematically impossible for digital filters to be transparent.) This is written by the people responsible for the design of the SABRE DAC chip, thought by many to be the best DAC chip made. Digital Filters | Resonessence

One never knows, do one? - Fats Waller

The fairest thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science. - Einstein

Computer, Audirvana -> optical to EtherREGEN -> microRendu -> ISO Regen -> Pro-Ject Pre Box S2 DAC -> Spectral DMC-12 & DMA-150 -> Vandersteen 3A Signature.

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Hmm, I guess what the votes and comments so far indicate is that IC chips are thought to be fungible by people who don't know what goes on in there - and it's so small and insignificant-looking anyway....

One never knows, do one? - Fats Waller

The fairest thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science. - Einstein

Computer, Audirvana -> optical to EtherREGEN -> microRendu -> ISO Regen -> Pro-Ject Pre Box S2 DAC -> Spectral DMC-12 & DMA-150 -> Vandersteen 3A Signature.

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I am aware of the math. My definition of transparent = if it ain't audibly different and specifically better as shown in double blind tests, I don't care beyond a prefererence for cheaper transparent over more expensive transparent. YMMV.

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I am aware of the math. My definition of transparent = if it ain't audibly different and specifically better as shown in double blind tests, I don't care beyond a prefererence for cheaper transparent over more expensive transparent. YMMV.

 

Have you listened to, for example, Audirvana Plus, to hear whether there are differences in a 1-point adjustment in a single iZotope SRC parameter on a hundred-point scale?

 

The math says the better you make the filter's frequency domain performance, the worse its time domain performance is. This means the design of every filter is a compromise, and - surprise! - not every designer will make that compromise exactly the same way. For example, some filter designers use "minimum phase" filters, while others use "linear phase." These are polar opposite filter designs, and sound quite different. Any discussion of transparency is simply irrelevant - asking where between linear phase and minimum phase transparency lies is like asking where transparency is between 1 and 10.

One never knows, do one? - Fats Waller

The fairest thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science. - Einstein

Computer, Audirvana -> optical to EtherREGEN -> microRendu -> ISO Regen -> Pro-Ject Pre Box S2 DAC -> Spectral DMC-12 & DMA-150 -> Vandersteen 3A Signature.

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What would constitute a "quantum mechanical effect"?

 

It was a joke, in reference to all the bogus advertising referred to in the cable thread.

 

[Anything that requires the Schrödinger equation (or the Dirac equation, etc) to describe accurately.]

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My ears can't hear math :) Seriously, there are many design goals, approaches, component selections, PCB routing choices etc, and one can never tell reliably if all of that prose and math and parts selections were well or poorly implemented in the final product. I have little time for audio product selection (I'd rather listen to my music), so I've chosen that the specs I mentioned above are a good proxy for what would be audibly transparent for me, and anything that meets those criteria would be audibly equal for me.

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Some argue there are no audible differences; others differ. What do you think?

 

You can select more than one answer.

 

All modern active electronics sound more or less the same, that's not an issue. What is an issue is whether the differences that exist actually mean anything to the listening and enjoyment of music and that depends upon who you are, and your listening priorities. What I might consider a big difference, or a critical difference, another listener might not find important at all. There will always be some differences between DACs as long as the designers use different types of power supplies, different implementations of the DAC chip (whether one D/A is used in a channel switching mode, two are used for true stereo, or four are used in a dual-differential configuration), and different designs of the analog stage. Do these differences matter? That's up to the individual listener/buyer.

George

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My ears can't hear math :) Seriously, there are many design goals, approaches, component selections, PCB routing choices etc, and one can never tell reliably if all of that prose and math and parts selections were well or poorly implemented in the final product. I have little time for audio product selection (I'd rather listen to my music), so I've chosen that the specs I mentioned above are a good proxy for what would be audibly transparent for me, and anything that meets those criteria would be audibly equal for me.

 

OK, I'll accept that you haven't spent time listening to hear whether different filtering sounds different. Try out one of the players I mentioned sometime if you have the inclination and the free time. I think you might be very surprised at just how different stuff with some of the same specs can sound. (And with the players, there are no hardware differences, so there's nothing else to attribute the change to.) Here's a snippet of that FAQ page on filters I linked earlier, just to give you a flavor for the types of changes in sound that can be caused by filter design changes:

 

Dispersion is the change in delay with frequency. Our ear has evolved in a world where it has never encountered an audio dispersive media, and we may ask what the ear will make of a dispersive filter. Perhaps, not being present in the natural world, we will be motivated to minimize dispersion in our audio systems. But dispersion means only that different frequencies will arrive at our ear at different times, it is not a mechanism of distortion. This different arrival time may seem undesirable at first consideration, but in practice, for those sound sources that tend to have limited frequency generation range, it may translate into a pleasant increase in depth of sound field.

 

For example, if the triangle and cymbals are co-located near the bass drums, the sounds of the triangle and cymbals being largely high frequency, and the drums being low frequency, will arrive at different times through the dispersive filter. This will be interpreted by the ear as a different distance to the instruments, and not as a distortion, and it may be desirable. The piano however, having a wide range of frequency outputs will be experienced differently, a dispersive filter may cause the piano to sound nearer the listener since at distances close to a piano the frequencies are emerging from spatially distinct places (each end of the frame) which will tend to be replicated by the dispersion. But, depending on the orientation of the piano and distance to the microphone, it may introduce an abstract ‘unrealistic’ sound.

One never knows, do one? - Fats Waller

The fairest thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science. - Einstein

Computer, Audirvana -> optical to EtherREGEN -> microRendu -> ISO Regen -> Pro-Ject Pre Box S2 DAC -> Spectral DMC-12 & DMA-150 -> Vandersteen 3A Signature.

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I say...

 

There are readily audible* differences between DACs due to

1a. power supply

1b. analogue stage and

2. due to different DAC chips

However the differences are small compared with speakers.

 

You didn't give me the option to say that differences that are audible are due to chaos theory!

 

Eloise

 

Note *: readily audible would not be something I would describe as night and day differences!

Eloise

---

...in my opinion / experience...

While I agree "Everything may matter" working out what actually affects the sound is a trickier thing.

And I agree "Trust your ears" but equally don't allow them to fool you - trust them with a bit of skepticism.

keep your mind open... But mind your brain doesn't fall out.

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Jud, if you could kindly point out double blind tests that resulted in the ability to distinguish DACs that all met the criteria I mentioned, then I'll gladly listen more and re-think my criteria for transparency and audible equivalency.

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Jud, if you could kindly point out double blind tests that resulted in the ability to distinguish DACs that all met the criteria I mentioned, then I'll gladly listen more and re-think my criteria for transparency and audible equivalency.

 

The thing is that the differences are so apparent no one I know of has ever wasted time doing double-blind testing. The closest thing I know of is that Resonessence says in that FAQ page I linked that they tried out various filters on testers to see which they preferred. Seriously, these differences are on the order of tone controls. Who do you know who would spend money setting up a DBT on whether you could tell a difference between bass turned all the way up and flat?

One never knows, do one? - Fats Waller

The fairest thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science. - Einstein

Computer, Audirvana -> optical to EtherREGEN -> microRendu -> ISO Regen -> Pro-Ject Pre Box S2 DAC -> Spectral DMC-12 & DMA-150 -> Vandersteen 3A Signature.

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It was a joke, in reference to all the bogus advertising referred to in the cable thread.

 

[Anything that requires the Schrödinger equation (or the Dirac equation, etc) to describe accurately.]

 

I dig the new avatar.

And always keep in mind: Cognitive biases, like seeing optical illusions are a sign of a normally functioning brain. We all have them, it’s nothing to be ashamed about, but it is something that affects our objective evaluation of reality. 

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Some argue there are no audible differences; others differ. What do you think?

 

You can select more than one answer.

 

I guess if you can't hear a difference between them, then buy the cheapest one.

 

Yes they sound quite different and a "better" dac may sound too analytical to you and may not work within your system. Awhile back about 10 locals gathered together at a friends house for an under $1k dac shootout. There were 7 dacs present all being fed via the same source. The entire room agreed on the clear winner and a clear loser. After the shootout, I purchased the winner and then resold it. I myself prefer the sound of the one that I brought (which came in number 4) in my own system. I'm not sure if the winner was just best for his system, it doesn't work in mine or that I was just used to number 4.

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Rather that DO they sound the same, the questions should be why do the NOT sound the same.

 

We should not be able to hear the equipment. We should hear the music as the artist intends us to hear it. Many audio copywriters use words that describe equipment as "deeper" "brighter" "airy" "fat" and so forth.

 

We should not be spending our audio cash reserves on equipment that sounds like anything!

In any dispute the intensity of feeling is inversely proportional to the value of the issues at stake ~ Sayre's Law

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Surprises me there aren't more votes for readily audible differences due to different DAC chips. The chip is where the filtering is done to convert the digits to music. That in a very real sense is the "sound" of the DAC; the rest is implementation. Implementation of course matters. But saying it doesn't matter how the sound of the DAC was designed through use of filters in the chip is like saying the way a boat was designed doesn't affect the way it sails.

 

 

Until I hear a certain DAC implementation with 2 different actual DAC chips it would be an assumption on my part.

Roon Rock->Auralic Aria G2->Schiit Yggdrasil A2->McIntosh C47->McIntosh MC301 Monos->Wilson Audio Sabrinas

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Rather that DO they sound the same, the questions should be why do the NOT sound the same.

 

We should not be able to hear the equipment. We should hear the music as the artist intends us to hear it. Many audio copywriters use words that describe equipment as "deeper" "brighter" "airy" "fat" and so forth.

 

We should not be spending our audio cash reserves on equipment that sounds like anything!

 

There was a time when that was the mainstream goal. High fidelity. Straight wire with gain.

 

But the high end conventional wisdom has turned that idea into the more revealing equipment becomes the more different it sounds. Which fits in a way. If it can never get good enough to be indistinguishable, rather becomes more different, there can be no end to how good it can be. Perpetual audible improvement with no possible end. Me thinks it about as likely as a perpetual motion machine my self.

And always keep in mind: Cognitive biases, like seeing optical illusions are a sign of a normally functioning brain. We all have them, it’s nothing to be ashamed about, but it is something that affects our objective evaluation of reality. 

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Did anyone see the Dac shootout at Headfi?

A gentleman ordered up 14 of our favorite sub $2K dacs and compared them side-by-side.

 

December 2013 Mid-Level DAC Comparison

 

Long thread short, they all sounded the same except to him except 2. Interesting post.

 

The tested dacs included

 

[TABLE=width: 100%]

[TR]

[TD]1. Emotiva Stealth DC-1. [/TD]

[/TR]

[TR]

[TD]2. Resonessence Concero. [/TD]

[/TR]

[TR]

[TD]3. Yulong DA8.[/TD]

[/TR]

[TR]

[TD]4. Metrum Octave Mk II.[/TD]

[/TR]

[TR]

[TD]5. Lynx Hilo. [/TD]

[/TR]

[TR]

[TD]6. Schiit Gungnir. [/TD]

[/TR]

[TR]

[TD]7. Chordette QuteHD.[/TD]

[/TR]

[TR]

[TD]8. NAD M51.[/TD]

[/TR]

[TR]

[TD]9. Ciunas DAC [/TD]

[/TR]

[TR]

[TD]10. Benchmark DAC-2.[/TD]

[/TR]

[TR]

[TD]11. Dangerous Source.[/TD]

[/TR]

[TR]

[TD]12. BMC PureDac.[/TD]

[/TR]

[TR]

[TD]13. Arcam irDAC[/TD]

[/TR]

[TR]

[TD]14. Anedio D2. [/TD]

[/TR]

[/TABLE]

Appreciation of audio is a completely subjective human experience. Measurements can provide a measure of insight, but are no substitute for human judgment. Why are we looking to reduce a subjective experience to objective criteria anyway? The subtleties of music and audio reproduction are for those who appreciate it. Differentiation by numbers is for those who do not." — Nelson Pass

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