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DAC Volume Control vs. Software Volume Control


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What's the best balance or settings for deciding how to use DAC and software volume control? I run a DAC straight into the amp, no preamp, and can use either the DAC or JRiver to control volume. When the DAC volume is all the way up, and software is the only volume control, there tends to be a harshness to the sound. When the DAC output is lowered to say, less than 80%, SQ is much better.

 

Besides just listening, is there a rule of thumb behind how to get the best use out of the two controls?

 

Thanks.

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What's the best balance or settings for deciding how to use DAC and software volume control? I run a DAC straight into the amp, no preamp, and can use either the DAC or JRiver to control volume. When the DAC volume is all the way up, and software is the only volume control, there tends to be a harshness to the sound. When the DAC output is lowered to say, less than 80%, SQ is much better.

 

Besides just listening, is there a rule of thumb behind how to get the best use out of the two controls?

 

Thanks.

 

What dac do you have? Not all dac's with volume control implement it the same way. Also, it would be good to list your entire system. Since you don't have a preamp things like how efficient your speakers are can have a big effect on how you need to do things.

 

The rule of thumb is just to experiment and set it the way it sounds best. If something sounds wrong, like your dac at full volume, it probably is.

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A DAC, like an amplifer, may not have sufficient headroom to avoid clipping distortion at full volume. Damien Plisson, developer of Audirvana Plus, recommends setting the software at full volume (0 dB) for bit-perfect output, then using your DAC/preamp to adjust. Unless your DAC lacks a remote volume control, and you are using a smartphone or tablet to control your system wirelessly, this is the preferred method.

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Remember to set Jriver output to 24-bit and only use Jriver 64-bit volume attenuation, not the system default volume control.

 

If you keep the original wordlenght (16-bit when playing 16-bit signal) the sound quality will be compromissed.

 

More on this topic:

 

https://wiki.jriver.com/index.php/Volume

Adam

 

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Remember to set Jriver output to 24-bit and only use Jriver 64-bit volume attenuation, not the system default volume control.

 

If you keep the original wordlenght (16-bit when playing 16-bit signal) the sound quality will be compromissed.

 

More on this topic:

 

https://wiki.jriver.com/index.php/Volume

 

Thanks Adam. JRiver is set to internal volume, which I think addresses your 64-bit volume attenuation comment, right?

 

The Auralic DAC uses an ASIO driver, from what I understand ASIO adjusts the word length, is this right?

 

Thanks.

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A DAC, like an amplifer, may not have sufficient headroom to avoid clipping distortion at full volume. Damien Plisson, developer of Audirvana Plus, recommends setting the software at full volume (0 dB) for bit-perfect output, then using your DAC/preamp to adjust. Unless your DAC lacks a remote volume control, and you are using a smartphone or tablet to control your system wirelessly, this is the preferred method.

 

That may be the preferred method, but he left a few things out. Depending on what gear you have, you can't always do it that way. As far as the volume control on the dac goes, it can either be digital or analog. Given your problem, I'll assume its digital.

 

When you have a digital volume control and no preamp acting as a buffer in between your source and amp, you're at the mercy of how well the components match up with each other. In your case, you either have too much, or too little gain. How you go about fixing it is determined by what options your dac gives you, if any. Here's an example of what I'm talking about. In my main system, I have Ayre amps and Vandersteen speakers, driven directly by my Wadia DAC/CD player. Everything sounds fine and works OK. If I unplug the Wadia and put it in my other system with Wilson speakers, I immediately get a noise/hiss. In this case, the output on the Wadia is too high and the excess gain is causing the noise. How you go about fixing that really depends on what options your components give you. In my case, Wadia knows this is likely to happen so they give you a way to control global gain in addition to the volume control. I have to take the lid off the Wadia and lower the global gain a setting or two using a series of dip switches. Once I lower the global gain, the noise goes away.

 

So, like I said in my first post, the whole system needs to be examined to determine a course of action. Altering the resolution on your front end shouldn't fix anything. At best, you'll be covering something up if it makes any difference at all. 90-95%, your problem is gain related. To be 100% sure, I would have to listen to your system, but that's most likely the problem.

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A DAC, like an amplifer, may not have sufficient headroom to avoid clipping distortion at full volume. Damien Plisson, developer of Audirvana Plus, recommends setting the software at full volume (0 dB) for bit-perfect output, then using your DAC/preamp to adjust. Unless your DAC lacks a remote volume control, and you are using a smartphone or tablet to control your system wirelessly, this is the preferred method.

 

Good and simple, and it works well on my system. Thanks.

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What's the best balance or settings for deciding how to use DAC and software volume control? I run a DAC straight into the amp, no preamp, and can use either the DAC or JRiver to control volume. When the DAC volume is all the way up, and software is the only volume control, there tends to be a harshness to the sound. When the DAC output is lowered to say, less than 80%, SQ is much better.

 

Besides just listening, is there a rule of thumb behind how to get the best use out of the two controls?

Given your observations ... I would suggest the "rule of thumb" for YOUR DAC and YOUR setup is to use the volume control in the DAC.

 

My point being there is no rule of thumb which is applicable to all DACs and setups!

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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Also good to see what happens after a power outage when using software volume control...I woke up in the middle of the night a couple weeks ago and my e-mail notification sound was played at full software volume instead of how it was left before the outage. No harm done but back to using active preamp to adjust volume.

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This is a very good rule of thumb guide I think, so long as you know how your DAC implements its volume control.

 

I recently ordered a DAC with volume control. I checked first how it was implemented, and was told that the architecture attenuates via the ESS pin. So in theory that's attenuation performed on a 32-bit sample stream, which (in theory, again) shouldn't introduce noticeable noise or SQ degredation via quantization.

 

I've not tried it out yet, so can't see whether the theory makes it through into reality! (Also, my knowledge of the theory is very basic compared to some of the super-brains on here!) :)

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