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Differences in sound: DAC vs. DAC + Pre-amplifier

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@Audiophile Neuroscience, I am not a "believer" in amplifiers being "better" just because they cost more.  I have heard all the usual suspects at shows, Soulution, Audionet, Vitus Audio, etc, etc,  All of those amps sound good, but I hear nothing in their performance which is not offered (or even bettered by, in some cases) a pair fo Mola Mola Kalugas.  A few of the mega expensive amps have been heard on the same speakers as the Mola Mola as well (Alexia 2 or Giya 2/3).  I hear (sometimes) slight difference with all of these amps, but none of those differences amount to anything which I would term "better".

 

IME, these days, there is no benefit anymore for the best class A amps vs. the best class A/B amps, as the crossover distortion problems have been solved by good engineering.  Given the insane waste of energy of class A, I consider them bad engineering at this point, as they offer no benefit anymore, at least not that I can hear. 

 

And then there are the obviously colored amps at mega prices, such as DartZeel, where the measurements show distortion products at what are clearly audible levels.  There are those who prefer such amps, which is fine with me, but one is gong to have problems if suggesting they are accurate.

 

Of course superb sounding amps can built DIY, and at a fraction of the cost of the usual mega expensive amps.  Something like DartZeel for example, has already been cloned by DIYers: of course they will not usually have the mega expensive chassis work!  I do not have a problem with the existence of high 5 and 6 figure amplifiers, as long as the buyers understand that they are paying for exclusivity, and very expensive custom case work, and not better sonics: transistors, resistors, capacitors, transformers, and some wire and PC boards only cost so much!  This is similar to very expensive watches, they do not tell the time any more accurately than something one can buy for $15.

 

As for class D, I view it the same way as all other classes of amps: there are a few good class D amps, and there are many bad ones.  Bruno Putzeys Ncore designs are the "best", at least until his new Purifi amps become more available.  As Mr. Putzeys has mentioned many times, his designs are not good because they are class D, they are good inspite of being class D.  He acknowledges that it is very difficult to engineer good sounding class D amps.  I never considered class D in the top tier of amplifiers until the Ncore designs were released, and Mr. Putzeys has now improved on Ncore with his Purifi design work (I am currently building up a Purifi based amp).  The Mola Mola is a tweaked Ncore design, and I suspect well implemented Purifi based designs to be better (at least measure better, whether the difference will be audible is remains to be seen).

 

When I said "absolute best", I believe I was referring to tube vs solid state there.  Of course there is no "absolute best" as how a given amplifier interacts with a loudspeaker differs, especially with some esoteric designs which may not be compatible with all speakers.  

 

My conclusion on amps, given what I have heard, is that one never needs anything more expensive than Mola Mola (OK, 5 figures there, although there are alternatives which should sound as good for $3K, i just have not heard them, same modules, and similar implementation).  Sure, one can spend much, much more, and get an amp which might sound slightly "different", but not actually better.  I feel we are at a point with electronic development where things are getting very close to "perfection" in terms of transparency and any differences which are actually audible are mostly down to slight colorations, rather than more or less transparency to the source.  My advice to people building systems these days is to spend the big money on loudspeakers, as the big differences in performance are there, and shop carefully for electronics, do not believe the hype, and do a lot of listening.  Class D amps save money because they do not require large enclosures, large transformers, or large heatsinks, this is smart engineering.   As for loudspeakers, well, they are expensive because really good enclosures are necessary for the best sound quality, and largish speakers are necessary if one has a decent sized room, so one cannot get around the fact that really good speakers are going to cost some cash-as mentioned previously, I think Vivid Audio has a leg up here, as they have applied molded composites in their cabinet construction which allows them to produce very good cabinets at fraction the cost of some of their competition (Magico, etc).  The expense of loudspeakers is going to stay the same, at least until there is some kind of major breakthrough in the science (pulsating spherical plasma drivers or???) which would eliminate the need for large, non-resonant, boxes.   


ROON: DSD 256-Sonore opticalModule-Signature Rendu optical--Buffalo PRO or DSC-2--Ncore 400 Stereo-Focus Audio FS888-JL E-112 sub-Nordost Tyr USB, DIY AC cables, Iconoclast XLR, Iconoclast speaker, cables, Synergistic Orange & Hi Fi Tuning Supreme Cu Fuses, Dark Matter system clarifiers.    Design/Build Consultant with Sonore

 

                                                       

SONORE computer audio

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6 minutes ago, Foggie said:

So the reverse to this statement or preference could be, if ones prefers a sterile, fatiguing, and hi-fi sound which equals "accurate", go with Class D and no tubes, no pre amp, no class A etc... 

Totally disagree.  It appears that you believe the function of an audio playback system is to imprint its own sound on the recording, editorializing on what the musicians and engineers intended.  I have no problem with that, as long as you accept it as well.

That is not what I am after, I prefer a playback system which is faithful to the sound of the recording, and does not add a "sound of its own".

 

BTW, I do not find an accurate playback system to sound "sterile, fatiguing" in any way (unless of course the recording is, and bad recordings do exist).  I would suggest that you are confusing an accurate sound with one that is colored.  I doubt it is the intent of musicians and recording engineers to produce recordings which are sterile and/or fatiguing sounding, and neither do i find that truly accurate playback systems sound as such (with good recordings).

 

Simple put, accurate does not equal sterile and fatiguing, accurate means warm sounding recordings will sound warm, a fatiguing sounding recording will sound fatiguing.  It means the playback system gets out of the way of the music.  Perhaps you have never heard such a system?  As an example of such, i would suggest you have a listen to the following:

 

Mola Mola Tambaqui DAC (or Makua preamp with DAC), Mola Mola Kaluga mono blocks, into some Vivid Audio Giya G-1, 2, or 3 loudspeakers, or Wilson Alexia 2s.  i have heard this set up, and/or similar ones a few times.  It is very detailed, even extremely detailed, but I find it totally natural sounding as well, with no fatigue.  In the past, especially with digital playback, there have been some annoying artifacts in playback, and systems which add some color of their own were often preferred for their ability to reduce the impact of the artifacts by obscuring them-the problem being that this color also obscured valuable musical details.  With the best electronics available now (especially DACs), we have entered a new realm of playback, where it is no longer necessary to obscure artifacts to reach acceptable playback sonics, as the annoying artifacts themselves have been eliminated.


ROON: DSD 256-Sonore opticalModule-Signature Rendu optical--Buffalo PRO or DSC-2--Ncore 400 Stereo-Focus Audio FS888-JL E-112 sub-Nordost Tyr USB, DIY AC cables, Iconoclast XLR, Iconoclast speaker, cables, Synergistic Orange & Hi Fi Tuning Supreme Cu Fuses, Dark Matter system clarifiers.    Design/Build Consultant with Sonore

 

                                                       

SONORE computer audio

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17 minutes ago, Foggie said:

I stated "preference could be" in a sort of hypothetical. 

 

Unless one was in the control room or live room when it was recorded, no one knows what a "specific" album sounded like and everyone tunes their rig based on their liking, preferences, experiences.  My reference is my background in playing instruments

 

I'll respectfully disagree.  Good luck. 👍

Right, we disagree!  BTW, i do not need an accurate reference to know what "sterile fatiguing" sound is.  

As far as references go, I totally agree, and even started a thread at these forums about references:

 

 

BTW, my GF is a professional performing and recording musician.  And I have been present on occasion to her laying down tracks in the studio, hearing the monitor feed, and the subsequent recordings, both as rough mixes, and finished versions.  I also hear her in rehearsal and practice, playing and singing un-ampliifed, as well as performing amplified, etc.  These are pretty good references, especially for female voice.  I try and play a little myself, but I basically suck at music, she is quite talented though, with a lovely voice.

Anyway, I am not at a loss as for an idea of what some music should sound like.


ROON: DSD 256-Sonore opticalModule-Signature Rendu optical--Buffalo PRO or DSC-2--Ncore 400 Stereo-Focus Audio FS888-JL E-112 sub-Nordost Tyr USB, DIY AC cables, Iconoclast XLR, Iconoclast speaker, cables, Synergistic Orange & Hi Fi Tuning Supreme Cu Fuses, Dark Matter system clarifiers.    Design/Build Consultant with Sonore

 

                                                       

SONORE computer audio

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8 hours ago, barrows said:

@Audiophile Neuroscience, I am not a "believer" in amplifiers being "better" just because they cost more.

 

 

Neither am I. IMO better amps are better because they sound ......better, closer to the real thing (as discussed above in this thread). IME that is pure class A amps, and yes they are expensive.

 

8 hours ago, barrows said:

 

 I have heard all the usual suspects at shows, Soulution, Audionet, Vitus Audio, etc, etc,  All of those amps sound good, but I hear nothing in their performance which is not offered (or even bettered by, in some cases) a pair fo Mola Mola Kalugas.  A few of the mega expensive amps have been heard on the same speakers as the Mola Mola as well (Alexia 2 or Giya 2/3).  I hear (sometimes) slight difference with all of these amps, but none of those differences amount to anything which I would term "better".IME, these days, there is no benefit anymore for the best class A amps vs. the best class A/B amps, as the crossover distortion problems have been solved by good engineering.

 

I agree, If you cannot hear any improvement then it would be silly to spend money on a more expensive amp.

 

8 hours ago, barrows said:

 Given the insane waste of energy of class A, I consider them bad engineering at this point,

 

Yes but they keep you 'toasty' in winter ! 😁

 

8 hours ago, barrows said:

  I do not have a problem with the existence of high 5 and 6 figure amplifiers, as long as the buyers understand that they are paying for exclusivity, and very expensive custom case work, and not better sonics: transistors, resistors, capacitors, transformers, and some wire and PC boards only cost so much!  

 

Well, not SQ that you can hear and that is fine. So your generalization " as long as the buyers understand that they are paying for exclusivity, and very expensive custom case work, and not better sonics" applies to you, not everyone.

 

8 hours ago, barrows said:

When I said "absolute best", I believe I was referring to tube vs solid state there.  Of course there is no "absolute best" as how a given amplifier interacts with a loudspeaker differs, especially with some esoteric designs which may not be compatible with all speakers.  

 

With respect you seem to make generalizations and then qualify them later.You explained this earlier by saying you expect people to assume certain things about your generalizations. Would it be more prudent not to make the provocative generalizations in the first place...and as @sandyk pointed out, not paint yourself into a corner?

 

 

 

8 hours ago, barrows said:

I feel we are at a point with electronic development where things are getting very close to "perfection" in terms of transparency and any differences which are actually audible are mostly down to slight colorations, rather than more or less transparency to the source.  

 

Yes, we have discussed this theory before and you are certainly entitled to it.

 

8 hours ago, barrows said:

 

 

My advice to people building systems these days is to spend the big money on loudspeakers, as the big differences in performance are there, and shop carefully for electronics, do not believe the hype, and do a lot of listening.

 

and presumably they shouldn't listen to any "hype" whether about speakers or electronics. My advice is to listen to the music played by all the components. IME the better the electronics and their implementation, the better the speakers will sound.

 

 

8 hours ago, barrows said:

 Class D amps save money because they do not require large enclosures, large transformers, or large heatsinks, this is smart engineering.   

 

No argument, just for me, they do not sound as good or accurate or transparent as top class A amps (YMMV). The caveat,as before, I have not heard Mola Mola or purifi.

 

8 hours ago, barrows said:

As for loudspeakers, well, they are expensive because really good enclosures are necessary for the best sound quality, and largish speakers are necessary if one has a decent sized room, so one cannot get around the fact that really good speakers are going to cost some cash-as mentioned previously, I think Vivid Audio has a leg up here, 

As an owner of Vivid G2's I must agree 😉

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