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Will an external DAC bring back bass response and dynamics?


catbox
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I'm fairly new to PC audio, so I have a lot to learn. My current issue is playback of my music files (FLAC). They noticeably lack in bass when compared to the CDs they were ripped from. The lack of low end also has a great impact on the dynamics of some music. I'm hoping it's the limits of the laptops sound card and that an external DAC will resolve the issue. For now, I'm just running a "Y" cable from the headphone out to the preamp. I do hear electronic noise in the background and I kind of expected to considering the sound source but I didn't expect to hear the low end take such a backseat

If it helps in anyway -

I'm running foobar and musicbee from an HP laptop into an Adcom GFP 555 preamp, Adcom GFA 555 amp and out to B&W 801s. CD player is Onkyo 7030.

 

thanks in advance for any guidance

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Welcome to the rabbit hole! [emoji195] I think an external DAC will help, for sure. You can go low $ to learn about the ins and outs by getting an Audioquest Dragonfly or similar, but with your associated equipment you would benefit from spending a little more. Look at iFi nano, micro series as the next level up. Then you can think about spending $1000s on a really high quality DAC. Sky's the limit!

 

 

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Thanks for the response.

I'm sure an external DAC will benefit the sound even if it only eliminates the "noise" in the background. This was my 1st attempt at piping music files through the main stereo so I'm sure there is much I can do to improve what I'm hearing. As of right now, things just don't sound right to my ears.

Listening to King Crimson - Easy Money from Larks Tongues, the dynamics are somewhat flat. Not the peaks and valleys I'm use to. Listening to the song Love and Hate by Michael Kiwanuka, early into the tune, the kick drum and bass come in but sound really subdued compared to what I hear on CD. I'm just not hearing the low end thump and hope that somehow that can be resolved with a DAC or otherwise.

Any input, suggestions, direction, etc.. is appreciated and it appears that I am headed for the so called rabbit hole.

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Headphone out from laptops are typically garbage. I mean bottom of the barrel quality.

 

That said, you'll love the impact from an external DAC but you don't have to spend thousands. You'll get excellent results from any of the schiit, ifi or other quality DAC manufacturers for hundreds. Unless of course you have money burning a hole in your pocket. Then, go hog wild

 

 

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Specifically bass....I don't think an external DAC will help as much in the lower frequencies. The difficult part of a DAC and where DAC quality is most apparent is mids and upper mids. Also, resolution, micro-details, imaging, and so on...a lot of which is ultimately thanks to the cleaner / quieter output stage of a quality DAC.

 

Forget about the entry level DACs, if this is a direction you are ready to go, you might as well dive directly into your first major upgrade and get yourself something like Gunjir Multibit (if you don't care about DSD), Gustard X20 Pro, and others in that range. Many people on this forum have spent a lot and time and money upgrading their source chain -- every upgrade makes a difference, but it has to start with a real DAC.

 

 

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Bass response can be improved with cables (both PC and ICs) given that your amps are a constant.

Contrary to what cable skeptics may say this is based on impedance matching your gear.

 

A good external DAC helps improve everything but especially Dynamic Range IMO.

Check the dynamic range specs of the DAC chip to get info on this.

It's the same old "Source is everything ..." - you can't extract anything more from the signal once it's out of the DAC.

 

my 0.02 ...

Win10 Transport + Fidelizer 8.7 + JRMC 28 & HQPlayer | Mutec MC-3+ Smart Clock USB |  Job INT | Green Mountain Audio Eos HX

 

 

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Bass response can be improved with cables (both PC and ICs) given that your amps are a constant.

Contrary to what cable skeptics may say this is based on impedance matching your gear.

 

Given the short run of typical cables in a home audio setting and negligible LCR the above is bullshit.

 

Here are some informational links:

 

http://electronicdesign.com/communications/back-basics-impedance-matching-part-1

 

http://www.bluejeanscable.com/articles/impedance.htm

 

If you are talking video or digital standards then cables with particular impedance could come into play. BNC, AES/EBU, Composite Video RCA etc...

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Given the short run of typical cables in a home audio setting and negligible LCR the above is bullshit.

 

Here are some informational links:

 

Back to Basics: Impedance Matching (Part 1) | Communications content from Electronic Design

 

What is Impedance, Anyway? -- Blue Jeans Cable

 

If you are talking video or digital standards then cables with particular impedance could come into play. BNC, AES/EBU, Composite Video RCA etc...

 

 

I don't think the OP is looking for a cable solution, and I won't turn this into yet another O vs. S cable thread, but they certainly made a difference in my system and every other one I've ever listened to.

 

 

A DAC and dedicated server could make a significant difference in bass output.

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Given the short run of typical cables in a home audio setting and negligible LCR the above is bullshit.

 

This is bad information. And quit being arrogant about it.

 

For the sake of the OP: the reason cables affect SQ is that the volume control, coupled with the interconnect cables, effectively becomes a high pass filter. This is the reason why you have to turn up the volume before the amps come "alive". Below a certain volume certain frequencies (typically the LF) get attenuated. However since you can't change the VC in your Adcom Pre it would make sense to try out a few well designed cables. Not talking about exotic cables here, just simple well designed cables. In effect your amps will "open up" with your VC at 7:30 on the dial instead of say 11:00.

 

The power cord suggestion comes from the larger topic of power treatment. I highly recommend doing this before spending a cent anywhere else. Clean power will improve bass tonality and definition which in turn improves everything else. If that is something you do not want to consider right now - try improving the power cord. You might be surprised at the results.

Win10 Transport + Fidelizer 8.7 + JRMC 28 & HQPlayer | Mutec MC-3+ Smart Clock USB |  Job INT | Green Mountain Audio Eos HX

 

 

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This is bad information. And quit being arrogant about it.

 

For the sake of the OP: the reason cables affect SQ is that the volume control, coupled with the interconnect cables, effectively becomes a high pass filter. This is the reason why you have to turn up the volume before the amps come "alive". Below a certain volume certain frequencies (typically the LF) get attenuated. However since you can't change the VC in your Adcom Pre it would make sense to try out a few well designed cables. Not talking about exotic cables here, just simple well designed cables. In effect your amps will "open up" with your VC at 7:30 on the dial instead of say 11:00.

 

The power cord suggestion comes from the larger topic of power treatment. I highly recommend doing this before spending a cent anywhere else. Clean power will improve bass tonality and definition which in turn improves everything else. If that is something you do not want to consider right now - try improving the power cord. You might be surprised at the results.

 

No, it's correct information.

 

I've designed a few passive crossovers. How many have you?

 

For a cable to have any filtering ability it HAS to act as a capacitor and significantly so. When you see a crossover of a speaker the caps are acting as notch or frequency filters.

 

Sorry but we are strictly into the mechanics of how this works. It is what it is.

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I've designed a few passive crossovers. How many have you?

 

Good. Then you should know that impedance covers capacitor and resistor loads.

 

Stop making an ass of yourself if you are not going to contribute directly to the OP's request. I mentioned cables because it is a sensible approach for him to squeeze bass response from his setup in addition to using a quality DAC.

Win10 Transport + Fidelizer 8.7 + JRMC 28 & HQPlayer | Mutec MC-3+ Smart Clock USB |  Job INT | Green Mountain Audio Eos HX

 

 

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Good. Then you should know that impedance covers capacitor and resistor loads.

 

Stop making an ass of yourself if you are not going to contribute directly to the OP's request. I mentioned cables because it is a sensible approach for him to squeeze bass response from his setup in addition to using a quality DAC.

 

I'm contributing by pointing out to the OP you don't know what you are talking about with regards to cabling. Analog RCA cables aren't impedance matching cable's for analog audio interconnects. Their LCR specs are part and parcel the make up and build of the cable.

 

Belden 1501, Mogami Gold etc all rate characteristic impedance at 75 Ohm @ 10 Million Hertz.

 

Again this cable impedance matching is bullshit and confusing to the OP. If the OP purchases any reasonable and reasonably priced RCA IC they'll have a 75 Ohm cable. What other argument could you possibly make.

 

I understand ESR and ESL of the capacitor as they could go into summed response modeling of the crossover circuit.

 

Again you are way out of your league here.

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To the OP:

 

I think more research is warranted. Bottom line is your system sounds fine with the CD *assuming you are playing CD's from the laptop* content in native form and you experience the FLAC as lacking.

 

So since a FLAC is unpacked and the DAC is simply being fed PCM data, just like the information off a CD, it's dubious if an External DAC is going to be restorative.

 

The laptop HP out can be noisy. I would go with an external DAC irregardless.

 

I'm a bit dismayed that no one bothered to ask you what you wanted to budget.

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The OP says this:

 

"My current issue is playback of my music files (FLAC). They noticeably lack in bass when compared to the CDs they were ripped from..."

 

How do we get to cables from that? Or how do we even get to an external DAC? The solution needs to occur at the same level of the problem it seems to me. So, to me that means that something is happening (software related) in the ripping process because a FLAC file from a CD should be exactly (bit identical) the same as the original WAV file - it should sound the same...

Hey MQA, if it is not all $voodoo$, show us the math!

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I'm contributing by pointing out to the OP you don't know what you are talking about with regards to cabling. Analog RCA cables aren't impedance matching cable's for analog audio interconnects. Their LCR specs are part and parcel the make up and build of the cable.

 

So what are you going to suggest to the OP to help improve bass response and dynamics of his current setup?

Win10 Transport + Fidelizer 8.7 + JRMC 28 & HQPlayer | Mutec MC-3+ Smart Clock USB |  Job INT | Green Mountain Audio Eos HX

 

 

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How do we get to cables from that? Or how do we even get to an external DAC? ...

My comment on cables was meant as an aside to the recommendation of the external DAC.

It all went down the shitter after that ...

Win10 Transport + Fidelizer 8.7 + JRMC 28 & HQPlayer | Mutec MC-3+ Smart Clock USB |  Job INT | Green Mountain Audio Eos HX

 

 

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My comment on cables was meant as an aside to the recommendation of the external DAC.

It all went down the shitter after that ...

 

I just assumed the OP was playing CDs from a CD player (i.e. car stereo) and found ripped FLACS played on his PC to be lacking.

 

Sent from my LG-H820 using Computer Audiophile mobile app

 

IMO, it went off rails with the very first reply - but yea, I also am assuming that the OP is doing the very basics - that he is comparing FLAC vs CD playback in the same playback chain (in this case, the laptop). The question is non-nonsensical otherwise...

Hey MQA, if it is not all $voodoo$, show us the math!

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I'm fairly new to PC audio, so I have a lot to learn. My current issue is playback of my music files (FLAC). They noticeably lack in bass when compared to the CDs they were ripped from. The lack of low end also has a great impact on the dynamics of some music. I'm hoping it's the limits of the laptops sound card and that an external DAC will resolve the issue. For now, I'm just running a "Y" cable from the headphone out to the preamp. I do hear electronic noise in the background and I kind of expected to considering the sound source but I didn't expect to hear the low end take such a backseat

If it helps in anyway -

I'm running foobar and musicbee from an HP laptop into an Adcom GFP 555 preamp, Adcom GFA 555 amp and out to B&W 801s. CD player is Onkyo 7030.

 

thanks in advance for any guidance

Sorry about the mess upthread.

 

It's quite possible, since you get a sound you like better from your CD player than from flacs, using the same speakers in the same room, that the difference you hear comes from the difference in digital-to-analog conversion in your sound card vs. digital-to-analog conversion from your CD player. So yes, doing the digital-to-analog conversion from your PC differently might help.

 

Couple of questions: What is the highest resolution accepted by your sound card? What would be your idea of a decent budget for an external 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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Thanks to all for the wide range of responses. I started to really get into audio playback in the early 70's, but as I stated in the 1st posting, I'm brand new to all this PC audio stuff. Plus, being well into my 60s I'm not as tech savvy as I should be.

Anyway, I was hoping a DAC was somewhat of a magic bullet for pc audio despite the descriptions of audio improvement in what little I've read at this point. I already knew that just tweaking gear was not going to correct what was coming out of my speakers.

 

Well, I was wrong.

I finally realized that the wifes old laptop is now part of the audio gear. After lots of searching, I tried swapping out the audio driver. Gear tweak success. Electronic noise is almost inaudible. Dynamics and low end are back. Bass is flabby and unfocused but it's there.

 

So, after all this, I feel a combination of rookie stupidity and pride of accomplishment.

 

Sometime in the next few days, I'll fill out the gear profile and start asking about DAC recommendations that match well with my system. I look forward to everyones input and suggestions.

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